Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Lifelines: With Every Stitch

C. Saphir

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was just three years old when my Bubby’s friend asked me the question. “A doctor,” I promptly replied. “You mean a nurse,” Bubby corrected me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

"What do you want to be when you grow up?” 

I was just three years old when my Bubby’s friend asked me the question. “A doctor,” I promptly replied. 

“You mean a nurse,” Bubby corrected me. 

“No,” I said. “I mean a doctor.” 

This was in the 1960s, when female doctors were a rarity, and a frum female doctor was almost unheard of. 

Nobody besides me ever imagined I’d be a doctor. I was a girl, I came from a chassidic family, and I hated school. I had a very hard time reading and was probably dyslexic, but in those days, kids like me were just considered stupid. I had to work extremely hard just to do okay in elementary school, and being a Type-A personality, I had a very hard time accepting just okay. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I actually taught myself how to learn. 

But creativity and working with my hands came very easily to me. My Bubby and all her sisters were milliners and seamstresses, and at the tender age of three, I began learning from Bubby how to sew clothes for my dolls. Later, she taught me needlepoint, crocheting, and flower beading. On top of that, my father, a general contractor, taught me how to fix things around the house and use power tools. From a young age, I learned to paint rooms, build furniture, fix electronics — you name it. Show it to me once and it was mine forever. 

At the age of 12, I joined a group from East Flatbush and Crown Heights who went on Shabbos afternoons to the Chronic Disease Hospital, which was part of the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. Many of the patients were difficult and demanding, having suffered severe strokes or been afflicted with dementia or blindness. Some would scream for someone to be with them. But one resident, Rosie, was different. She was an amazing woman, a quadriplegic who would paint with her teeth, and she instructed us how to take care of the other patients in the ward. She taught us all a great deal about how to meet the needs of others, no matter how gut-wrenching or unattractive the task that had to be done. I found tremendous satisfaction in making these patients smile or even laugh.

Photo: Shutterstock

During the summers I was the arts and craft counselor in camp, and I was always busy with music and my guitar. I wanted to play the drums, but my father — a Holocaust survivor, self-made man, and sixth-generation Lubavitcher chassid — said, “Sharon, girls don’t play the drums.” When I responded by naming a popular non-Jewish female singer who drummed, he was not impressed. “No daughter of mine is playing the drums,” he declared. 

I think my parents assumed that I would pursue a vocation in some type of craftwork or follow in the footsteps of my older sister, who was a fashion designer. They were somewhat stunned when I asked them if I could go to college. When I saw my father’s hesitation, I exclaimed, “Daddy, the Rebbe went to college!” I had learned a thing or two since my drum days, and this time, I got a yes. I promptly enrolled in the physician’s assistant training program at Long Island University. 

My parents were even more shocked when, after my first semester in college, I received the Dean’s Scholarship Award for academic excellence. 

As I was nearing the end of the PA program, I did a rotation in surgery. With my arms deep inside my first-ever surgical patient, I felt her aorta beating against my hand. Seeing gadlus Hashem so up close and personal struck me to the core, and I knew I had found my home in the operating room.

Related Stories

Lifelines: Every Possible Avenue

C. Saphir

Nothing in my parents’ marriage had quite prepared me for what my own shanah rishonah would look lik...

C is for Courage — Revisited

Esty Bloom

Almost four years have passed. Almost four years since that hot summer day when I was diagnosed with...

Learning Curve: Chapter 5

Gila Arnold

Aviva’s sister is making an upsheren and she expects Aviva to contribute elaborate baked goods. Yael...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Using Our Free Will Effectively
Yonoson Rosenblum The image we carry of ourselves is key
Eytan Kobre The ripple effects of one Jew’s kiddush Sheim Shamayim
Living the High Life
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger It is exhilarating to matter, to be truly alive
It’s Time for Us to Speak Up
Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie We must speak out proudly for the values of Yiddishkeit
Kiruv Is Not Dead
Rabbi Meir Goldberg Do these sound like uninspired or closed students?
Frosting on the Cake
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman “Let’s not let a missing chocolate cake ruin our siyum!”
A Warm Corner in Flatbush
Yosef Zoimen It was a simple shul with a choshuve leader
Out of Control
Jacob L. Freedman “That’s illegal, Dr. Fine. I can’t have a part in this”
Song of Reckoning in the Skulener Court
Riki Goldstein “It’s awe-inspiring to watch the Rebbe sing this song”
“U’teshuvah, U’tefillah, U’tzedakah”
Riki Goldstein Throughout the Yamim Noraim, three words accompany us
The Rebbe Held His Gaze
Riki Goldstein A moment etched in Reb Dovid Werdyger’s memory forever
The Road Taken
Faigy Peritzman In the end it’s clear who really merits true happiness
Sincere Apology
Sarah Chana Radcliffe A heartfelt and complete apology can turn things around
Power Pack of Mercy
Mrs. Shani Mendlowitz The 13 Attributes of Mercy are “an infinite treasure”
The Appraiser: Part II
D. Himy M.S. CCC-SLP, and Zivia Reischer “Eli needs to see people who struggled to achieve”