GREAT NECK, NY – There is something of a secret (until now) about the family history of Sara-Chana Silverstein – the nationally and internationally renowned alternative medicine expert, columnist, medical school lecturer, keynote speaker, TV and radio personality, who is also the co-author of the book, MOODTOPIA – a widely praised alternative medicine self-help paperback, which bears on its front cover the endorsement of former super model and health and fitness guru Christie Brinkley, and on its back cover the testimonial of the new age medicine trailblazer, author and media star Doctor Deepak Chopra.
When I had inadvertently learned of the “secret” from her during a recent telephone interview conducted from my Great Neck, Long Island office to hers in Brooklyn, N.Y., I was totally amazed.
Let me explain. I had already learned from my customary pre-interview research that the Los Angeles, Californian born and raised Sara- Chana (I use her first and middle names rather than her last to avoid confusion, as you will soon see why) had been a successful child and teenage actress. Appearing under the stage name Simone Blue, Sara-Chana performed regularly during the mid-1970’s in a variety of hit TV series shows, including Marcus Welby, M.D., Toma and Ironside, and several years later, landed a major role in the 1984 movie NADIA, a celebrated film about the life of Romanian child gymnast and Olympic Gold Medal winner Nadia Comaneci.
“They were wonderful times in my life. Both as a very young actress and later as a teenager and young adult, I had the incredible good fortune to perform in very popular TV shows and also have a great part in a great movie,” stated Silverstein, when shortly after the interview began, I referred to her former career in show business.
“But,” she added, “I assume that you learned from my bio, that the name Silverstein does not appear in my credits. Silverstein is my married name. My stage name, as you already know, was Simone Blue. But sometimes that name gets confused with my real, legal last name, which, you probably do not know, is Saperstein.”
She was right. I had not come across the name Saperstein during my pre-interview research. Yet, the name itself caused me to come to a sudden pause, because it had special meaning to me that went back to my childhood.
As kids in the 1960’s my older brother Alan and I would take the train from our Brooklyn home to Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, whenever we heard that The Harlem Globetrotters were going to be playing an exhibition basketball game there. Comprised of exclusively Black, magnificently talented players, including the late Wilt Chamberlain who later went on to a famed career in the NBA, The Harlem Globetrotters were the most storied nationally and internationally non-NBA basketball team in the world. They were also universally known as “Abe Saperstein’s Harlem Globetrotters’’- named after the eponymous sports promoter, Abraham Saperstein, who had acquired the team in its infancy in 1926 and had owned it until his death in 1966.
So, almost as a reflex reaction, I asked Sara-Chana if she was in fact related to Abraham Saperstein “I am,” she replied without a pause. “He was my paternal grandfather, and his son Jerry, was my father, whom I am sad to say recently passed away.”
“As for my grandfather,” she elaborated, “he died shortly after I was born, so I never got to know him. But my dad told me all about him. He used to go into detail about how his father had used his life savings to buy The Harlem Globetrotters, when they were a still a very new and totally unknown team. He would go on telling me how his dad had used his talents as a promoter to successfully market the team. And my father was most proud of how he [Abe Saperstein] had used The Harlem Globetrotters to show a pre- and then early civil- rights era America that Black athletes could excel and could be accepted and respected by a white audience when given the chance to play a game they loved. It seems a very obvious message which applies to every pursuit in life, but it was a message that was ahead of its time back then.”
It could be argued that like her grandfather, albeit following a different “pursuit in life,” Sara-Chana was also ahead of her time, starting during her freshman year at the University of California at Irvine in 1982.
“By my first year in college, I had already begun to put my acting career behind me, and I majored in Fine Arts,” she noted.
“But in addition to my academic studies through my own independent readings,” she elaborated, “I had developed a very deep interest in the science of alternative medicine [a system which integrates holistic and conventional medicine] – even though at the time it was mostly unknown in the United States.”
Sara-Chana explained, though, that she had to put that interest aside for a while, even though it constantly remained on her mind.
“I graduated from UC in the spring of 1986. That summer I attended a Shakespearian study program I had previously signed up for at Yale University and under the sponsorship of Oxford University. The program was great. But I had a hard time focusing on Shakespeare, because by that time, my mind was primarily focused on learning more about alternative medicine,” she recalled.
There were, though, a second and a third reason that Sara-Chana’s study of alternative medicine took more than just a bit longer to formally begin. Sara-Chana, who is an orthodox Jew, explained,
“I felt because of my busy acting career, I had not devoted enough time to studying Judaism. So in 1987, I went to New York City, which was known for its Jewish women’s studies programs, and enrolled in an all girl’s [Jewish] seminary.”
The third reason that Sara-Chana’s study of alternative medicine was delayed proved the most important of all.
“During the first year of my [Jewish] studies, I was introduced by friends to a man named, Avrohom Silverstein. We fell in love almost immediately and married about a month after we met, and New York became my new home,” she stated.
“However,” Sara- Chana continued, “ While I put off my dream to become formally trained in alternative medicine for a few years after marriage, I eventually decided to put my dream into action.”
She did just that. Within five years after her marriage, Sara-Chana earned advanced professional certifications in the three main fields of alternative medicine – homeopathy, herbs and lactation. And she soon started her own practice in the field.
“Finding myself in my new profession where I could use my training to help others live healthier and happier lives was a wonderful feeling,’’ Sara-Chana enthused.
Both during and beyond that time span, Sara-Chana had seven more “wonderful feelings,” each one bringing her a joy far surpassing any other in her life.
“My husband and I have been blessed with seven amazing children – five boys and two girls. For us, each one of our precious children has been a true blessing from G- d,” she stated.
When, as an inescapable (I thought) follow-up question, I asked her about how she has been able to balance her life as a mother and wife along with her very successful and extremely demanding and time-consuming career, Sara-Chana responded,
“I am asked that question all the time. My answer is that I have become out of necessity a master at multi-tasking, but always with the understanding that my family responsibilities come before any professional ones.”
A sudden illness that struck her oldest daughter in the fall of 2016 presaged a heartbreaking family responsibility that the mother of seven had to soon fulfill. The daughter, then a 27-year-old teacher who had been healthy her entire life until that day, telephoned Sara-Chana from her school, stating that she had suddenly lost feelings in first her left and then her right arm, and both limbs had become totally numb.
“I was beyond frightened and immediately took my car to get my precious girl and drove her to our family doctor. However, he couldn’t determine what had caused her sudden illness… And terrifyingly, her numbness continued, and within the next two hours she had lost all sensation from her shoulders on down,’’ Sara-Chana dolefully recalled.
The ordeal soon went from terrifying to what soon seemed to be hopelessly tragic.
“So, I took my brave, beautiful daughter to the hospital and prayed that her paralysis was temporary, and the doctors could find a method of treatment that would restore her ability to walk. They couldn’t,’’ Sara-Chana lamented.
I already knew of this compelling story from reading Chapter One of MOODTOPIA, “Facing the Challenge.” (The remaining 11 chapters, as earlier noted, cover a range of alternative medicine treatments.) However, as I sensed the sound of pain comingled with the opposite sound of joy in Sara-Chana’s voice as she described it, I felt the strange sensation that I was hearing it all for the very first time. It was a feeling which remained with me throughout her retelling the details of her and her daughter’s painful and remarkable story to me.
So, as the loving mother continued, I remained transfixed.
“The doctors diagnosed my daughter with the almost always irreversible neurological disorder named transverse myelitis, dooming her, they predicted, to be a quadriplegic the rest of her life. As a result, they were preparing to send her to a nursing home, where they told me she would almost certainly never be able to leave,’’ she bemoaned.
However, Sara-Chana, who had remained at her daughter’s bedside throughout what turned out to be her seven-month hospital stay, decided to defy the doctors plans for her child and placed her in a rehab center instead. It proved to be a wise decision.
“Starting from her first few days as a patient there, I realized that the rehabilitation center was the best place for my daughter to begin her healing process… The therapists used a variety of therapeutic exercises and manual therapy techniques that began to relieve her pain and give her a new feeling of hope,” Sara-Chana remembered.
Under Sara Chana’s professional and maternal direction her daughter’s “new feeling of hope” would become the start of a miraculous recovery.
“Back in the dark days of her hospital stay, I had used a variety of herbs and other homeopathic methods to treat my daughter. But when she left the hospital and began really showing progress in rehab, I was able to become more creative in the modalities I was able to use. These healing modalities included acupuncture [the practice of injecting needles into injured muscles and joints], gyrotonics [a system used to enhance the flow of the body’s own energy], massage, Pilates [a method used to increase flexibility and improve the level of the functioning of the heart], and a more intense array of herbs,’’ recounted Sara-Chana.
The final part of that story coinciding with the final minutes of the interview would transform even the most rigid cynic into an undying optimist.
“My daughter, as you read in the book, was eventually able to leave the rehab center, and began, within a year after her illness, to be able to walk again. And as we speak today, I am happy to inform you that if my daughter’s incredible current progress continues, as we expect it will, she will very soon be able to return to living a normal, healthy life once again,” Sara-Chana happily prognosticated.
With that good news, Abraham Saperstein just might be smiling from above.