Sara Chana Silverstein was one of those kids with chronic allergies. She was constantly seeing doctors for allergy shots, which didn’t seem to help her and, as she says, “didn’t feel right in my body.” A crackerjack researcher from the start—“It’s the core of who I am as a human being”—Sara Chana decided to look for her own cure. She sat in the library for hundreds of hours studying about the health benefits of herbs. When she tried them herself, “they significantly changed my life.” Sara Chana left her native Los Angeles to attend seminary in Crown Heights, where she married her husband.
She hoped to attend medical school, but a traumatic childbirth experience threw a curve ball at her career plans. As she sat in the doctor’s office recovering from what she believes was an unnecessary C-section, she listened to the women in the waiting room complaining about all kinds of nursing problems. “I thought, ‘How can this be? Hashem wants us to feed our babies.’” Back to the library she went to research clinical studies and nursing statistics. She consulted with some of the world’s top nursing researchers. She became, as she says, “obsessed.” She decided to become an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), specializing in difficult cases. She has since become the woman desperate moms turn to when nothing else works.
She assists not only mothers with no special medical needs, but also those with chronic infections and soreness, as well as babies born with multiple sclerosis or in need of open-heart surgery. To date, she has helped thousands of nursing mothers. In order to observe nursing behavior in newborns, Sara Chana trained as a doula and got hooked; she has attended 464 births so far. “I fell in love with the mothers,” Sara Chana says. As her research continued, Sara Chana became disturbed by all the misinformation about birth and nursing on the Internet, and she decided to go to the mass media with a message for mothers. She worked with an ad firm for ten months and was interviewed by magazines across the US. She booked herself on a show to talk about nursing, then booked herself on 35 more. “It was really hard work,” she says, laughing.
Now she is a regular face on all the major media networks, educating women about nursing and birth. In addition, Sara Chana is a regular contributor mothering sites. She gets her writing done, she says, “mamash in the middle of the night,” between 12 and 2 a.m. Although she is passionate about her cause, Sara Chana admits that being an Orthodox woman in the national spotlight is “really hard.” To keep herself grounded, she always travels with one or two of her children. She says, “Wherever I am, we always sleep at a Chabad house. My kids get to come with me, and they love it.” As part of her training as an IBCLC, Sara Chana also had to learn about antibiotics, steroids and other Western medicines.
After working with many nursing mothers, she became convinced there were other ways to treat their infections than the standard round of antibiotics. “I knew we could take care of it naturally because women had nursed for over 5,000 years before antibiotics came about,” she says. She took a five-year course on homeopathy, followed by a two-year herbal apprentice program, and is now a classical homeopathist and one of the only “master herbalists” in the world (let alone a frum female one). Her client base extends beyond nursing mothers to men and women with a variety of health issues, as well as children with chronic ear infections, chronic strep throat, and ADHD. She is a sought-after authority in her field, respected even by medical doctors for the extensive research she’s done on medications and antibiotics, as well as for her expertise in conventional medicine.
Sara Chana’s goal, she says, is to empower her clients to “be a partner with their medical care providers, to feel that they have a say about their own bodies and about their family’s health, and that they’re educated about their options.” Although she specializes in alternative medicine, Sara Chana has nothing against Western medical practice. “I believe that Hashem put everything in the world for a reason. So if you break your leg, you don’t need to go to your homeopath; you need to go get an X-ray, get a cast, and then come to me for something to help expedite the healing. It’s not one or the other.”Besides, she adds, “who could not love an MRI?” She believes that homeopathy and herbs can be an invaluable complement to Western treatments (even chemotherapy and radiation) and can even act to block illness before it starts. “It’s preventive medicine at its best,” Sara Chana explains.
“For instance, Yom Tov is right around the corner and everyone’s schedule gets crazy. The kids were up late all summer, then the school year starts and we put them into bed early, but then Yom Tov comes and they’re up late again. Kids get sick. So two weeks before an anticipated change in the schedule is when you start giving herbs. If you’re going to a chasunah and you’re going to be up all week for sheva brachos, if you’re flying to Eretz Yisrael, you give your kids those herbs.”
Sara Chana works tirelessly to raise awareness in the Jewish world about the benefits of homeopathy and herbs, and with her media appearances she is now helping the world at large. One of the most important things to know, she says, is the difference between homeopathy and herbs. Herbs are used preventively and help reduce symptoms, and most people can be taught to use them on their own. Homeopathy, on the other hand, changes a person’s habitual patterns and should be monitored by a trained homeopath. Both, however, reflect a belief that there is more to healing than just getting rid of symptoms.
Quoting the founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahneman, she says, “Hashem puts a soul in a body, and the soul has a job to do in this world. The body is the vessel that carries the soul to do what it needs to. If the body become sick, there’s something the soul needs to do to change.” And that, Sara Chana says, is what her job is all about. “I try to help people discover how to heal their bodies so the neshamah is free to do the work it is supposed to do in this world.” She teaches her clients, “Every physical challenge we have has a benefit to it. If we understand the positive in the negative and the lessons we need to learn, then we can grow from every challenge we have.”