Tuesday, August 8, 2023

A Kind Rabbi

Last year, I received an unforgettable review on my memoir, TWO MORE YEARS. Instead of critiquing the book, this reader criticized me and what she dubbed my "uber-positivity." At that moment, I cried because it's hard to realize some people genuinely wish tragedy on others. Not only had she critiqued my mindset, but this woman also seemed perturbed that I hadn't died at the end of my book. "Maybe I'm missing the point," she relayed. "Maybe the point is, 'I'm living with cancer, fighting it, and buying more time with my family before I die.'"


Although they have lost their sting, her words have flummoxed me for over a year, and I remained deep in ponderous thoughts about this until my rabbi, Sara Goodman, messaged me.


"There is a wonderful Jewish folktale," she wrote, explaining that a man had a dream about the king and immediately went to tell him. 


"You climbed a ladder," he said, "but when you reached the middle of it, I woke up." The king felt so delighted by these words that he gave the man a bag of gold. Walking home, now rich, the man told his neighbor about his good fortune, but this neighbor became jealous and devised a plan. He could also visit the king and tell a story. 

"I had a dream too," he said to the king the next day. "But in my dream, you climbed the ladder and reached the top." To his dismay, the king didn't appear happy at all and immediately asked the guards to bring the man to the dungeon.


"Why?" the man pleaded.


"Because," the king replied, "your dream prophesied my demise. There was nowhere else to go!"


"Elisa," Sara wrote, after sharing this story, "your outlook on life and your commitment toward living every moment of every day to its fullest is a gift and an inspiration. For you, every moment is a rung on that ladder, and you cherish each one. Most people resolve to live life in this fashion, and we believe that we do. But in reality, our lives are simply a garage full of many small ladders we endeavor to reach the top of and then put away. Goal met, done! This is very different than living every moment to the fullest. It’s not a bad way to live, just different. And not how we tell ourselves and others to live."


I paused while reading this and stared at my front yard. Before receiving her message, I'd been sitting on a bench, watching Trey and Indy chase each other in the grass. Their laughter made me think about my life and hope I've made a difference for the people who mean the most to me. That's all that seems to matter now. Not the jobs I've had, the degrees I attained, the books I've written... Those paltry accomplishments seem to be dust compared to making a positive impact for my husband and children. Love is the only thing that's stronger than death—because it carries on.


"So, when people meet you—in person or through your books," Sara continued, "we are hit with the realization that we're not living in the way we thought we were. It takes a lot for a person to be able to say, 'Okay. I’m actually not where I thought I was, and I’m completely okay with that.' So, thank you, Elisa, for inspiring me to live my life in a fuller way."


A river of gratitude poured through me, and I suddenly sobbed right there in my front yard. Rabbi Sara is one of the kindest, most inspirational women I have ever known. To hear this validation from someone like her, someone who is so innately good...


"Are you okay, Mama?" Indy asked, and both she and Trey ran over to either side of me.


"This was quite possibly the nicest message I've ever received," I said.


In 2020, after my terminal diagnosis, I discovered peace in Judaism. But in 2021, when I found the local synagogue, I finally understood where I belong: with people like Rabbi Sara Goodman and her mother, Bayle. They're true examples of altruistic, uplifting women. I can only hope to be more like them. Even Sara's recent words have been like a light in a dark desert. Words have the power to hurt or heal. I doubt these women fully understand what they've done for me. They believe in me and have given me the roadmap to living a life that I can be proud of. I hope I can rise to the occasion and appreciate each rung in the ladder, just like Rabbi Sara said.


  1. You are truly blessed to have Rabbi Sara in your life. That other woman, the one with the comment, didn't realize how brave you are to put your life out there for all to see, for ignorant people to miss the point, for cruel people to make up issues about you and your life, the way the woman you wrote about did. I'm convinced though that there are more of us who do get the point of how you live your life, who have come to love you, who want to support you in your fight to live, and, yes, I think we are hurting too when we read about these insensitive and ugly comments on the way you live your life.

  2. This is very hard. Your Rabbi Sara is so kind. She said healing words to you. And yes, love is the only thing thats stronger than death. We are never separeted with our loved ones. Neither in heaven than on earth. You have an open heart, most people have not. You put so much love into others, especially your family. They are blessed with you. Take your violin and play a happy song just for your own. God bless you allways. Petra