The Zoo Rabbi Talks Torah

— by Hannah Lee

The last time the “Zoo Rabbi” came to Philly, I had a family emergency and missed Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s Bible-guided tour of the Philadelphia Zoo. This time, I caught both of his shiurim on July 22 at Congregation Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The advantage was that he could show photos and PowerPoint graphics for two lectures titled, The Challenge of Dinosaurs and Beasts of Prey in Jewish Thought.

More after the jump.
Born in Manchester, England and the son of a physicist, Rabbi Slifkin has been a life-long student of animal life. In 1999, he began teaching about the relationship between Judaism and the animal kingdom at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. He has since developed the Zoo Torah program, which he has since successfully operated in various cities in the United States as well as in Toronto, Cape Town, and Johannesburg. He’s also studying for a Ph.D. in Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University.

Rabbi Slifkin, his wife Avital, and their four children live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, along with an assortment of pets, which at various times has included chinchillas, squirrels, rabbits, guinea-pigs, hamsters, cockatiels, parrots, pheasants, parakeets, finches, quails, snakes, iguanas, geckos, chameleons, turtles, frogs, toads, basilisks, and fish.

Did dinosaurs exist? The Rabbi showed an impressive life-size display from one of the prominent science museums in this country and stated baldly that it’s all fake. To gasps of disbelief, he calmly clarified himself by explaining that the actual fossil bones are too delicate to present to the general public. So, how do we know they’d existed? From the fossil bones, footprints, eggs, and excrement left behind. (Although when he visited Dinosaur Ridge, Colorado, he was nonplussed by how many of the local residents had never bothered to see the famous footprints in their neighborhood.) He then passed around a baby tooth from a Spinosaurus which he said was 100 million and seven months old (because he’d obtained it seven months ago!). The crucial point was that in all the areas with dinosaur bones, there were no other bones of co-existing creatures.

What is the lesson is this? Rabbi Slifkin offered the most popular theories before citing the one that was most cogent. One is that God created the world with dinosaur bones in it. Rabbi Yisrael Lifshitz in Derush Ohr HaChayyim notes that when the Bible says: “…and it was evening, and it was morning,” this implied that there had been other epochs. And the Mishnah refers to iguanodons that were 15 feet high and megalosauruses that were meat-eaters. Finally, the Kabbalah mentions destroyed worlds. But why would HaShem tease us so?

The second perspective is represented by Rabbi Eli Munk in The Seven Days of the Beginning, who notes that when the Bible states that six days occurred before the creation of Man, how long was a day before the Sun?  The latter came into being on Day Four, after vegetation was created on Day Three. Yom could refer to “an era,” just as “day” can refer to more than 24 hours as in The Day of the Jackal, the English thriller novel and movie of that name. So, six days can refer to billions of years and a shifting sense of time. However, says Rabbi Slifkin, this approach undermines the Torah by implying that nothing was learned or was accurate until science validated it.

The true value of Torah is as theological pedagogy, says Rabbi Slifkin. What was concurrent at the time of the Bible?  For example, the Babylonians’ creation tale is about a clash of the titans, deities who battle it out with each other. The goal of the Torah is to teach monotheism, that one God had created Everything. The Biblical message of the six days of creation is to create the setting for Man: History began with Man. All pagans worship the Sun, but in the Torah, the Sun appears only on Day Four.

What about the taninim, great reptiles, that appear in Genesis?  Yes, but they live only in the water. Pagans believe in great monsters of the sea, but the Torah demythologizes these legends, by placing them within the company of other creatures.

So, the important question is not where are the dinosaurs in the Torah? A better quest is what can we learn from the dinosaurs? There are several hypotheses about how the dinosaurs became extinct. The popular one is that a giant meteor or comet crashed — perhaps near the Gulf of Mexico — blotted out the sun, and flooded the land where the dinosaurs lived. However, this approach does not serve us well, as current science indicates that we’d have only one day’s notice before such meteor could strike again.

No, it’s a lesson of humility, says Rabbi Slifkin. Another lesson is that while dinosaurs, a term commonly used to refer to something obsolete, became extinct, Judaism is an ancient tradition that has survived — and thrived — into modernity.

The second shiur focused on contemporary creatures of prey, mostly on the bear, which is often cited as a symbol of anger in Jewish texts. Why is that?  Adult bears can weigh between 400 – 500 pounds, while the newborn cubs weigh less than half a pound. So, a mother bear has to invest a lot of time and energy into nurturing its young, thus forming a fierce bond. Anyone who threatens its young faces its wrath.

In the Biblical book of Daniel [7:2-5], Persia and Medea are represented by bears, Babylon by a lion, and Greece by a leopard. In the Talmud, Persians are said to eat and drink like a bear [Megillah 11a]. As we all know, bears hibernate in the winter, but in the spring and summer months they feast ravenously and indiscriminately. In the autumn, in a race against time to pack in calories before winter hits, bears can eat continuously; they can eat up to 200 pounds of berries in one day. Similarly, the Persians of Megillat Esther — as in the week-long feasts of King Achashverosh — are human examples of gluttony.

Another use of bear imagery is the creature that attacks when it is caught unawares. A brown bear is dangerous when it is surprised, when it thinks it’s being attacked. When one is careless in bear country, that’s the time when one could surprise a bear and cause it to attack. So, the Biblical Joseph’s death is attributed to “a wild beast [that] has consumed him.” A stronger imagery is when the Midrash Bereshit describes Potiphar’s wife as a bear, because Joseph was so carefree in Pharoah’s domain that he could curl his hair, thus God sets her against him [Rashi, Genesis 39:6]. Similarly, Jews in Persia were not on their guard.

Finally, the lesson of the Torah on bears is contrary to the rising popularity of the notion of mutual respect, that “if you love them, they’d love you back.”  As with wild animals, so with human enemies. Jews should know our enemies, but we should not delude ourselves that they’d love us back were we to love them.

Rabbi Natan Slifkin maintains two websites, zootorah.com and rationalistjudaism.com. You may download a sample chapter from the four-volume The Torah Encyclopedia of Animal Kingdom, to which Rabbi Slifkin has devoted over a decade of scholarship.

New political book roasts flaws in governing

College students threatened with doubled school-loan interest rates can thank a stale, anachronistic political process on Capitol Hill that makes as much sense as the antics on “Seinfeld.”

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must have modeled his negotiating skills on Seinfeld pal George Costanza when he allowed Republicans to retain their filibuster power, which they abuse at nearly every opportunity, according to the new e-book Amending America: To Change Policy, Change the System. This close look at our governing system is written by Philadelphia Jewish Voice writer Bruce S. Ticker.

Excerpts of Amending America were published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice earlier this year under the working title, American Vision.

More after the jump.
Amending America builds a compelling case that the Constitution’s rules and other glitches in the system facilitate gridlock in Congress by shortchanging the clout of larger states in the Senate; allowing the two-party system to undermine independent candidates; treating Washington, D.C., residents as second-class citizens; and, of course, depriving Americans of a direct vote for our presidential preference. The book offers recommendations to level the playing field for all 308 million of us.

Book Chat: An Economist Gets Lunch

By Hannah Lee

It’s about time that an economist weighs in on the foodie scene and the locavore movement.  Despite the negative advance press about Tyler Cowen’s new book, An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, I kept an open mind.  I was rewarded by a delightful read and I learned lots of fascinating strategies for finding good, affordable food, especially when one is away from home.

More after the jump.
Tyler CowenA professor at George Mason University, Cowen is a foodie who keeps his passion in check with a studied knowledge of market forces.  Since food is a product of economic supply and demand, his three principles to guide him in his food choices are to “figure out where the supplies are fresh, the suppliers are creative, and the demanders are informed.”

It was on a trip to Nicaragua, a place not known to offer good food, that Cowen first developed his tactics for finding decent meals. Upon arriving in the country past lunchtime, he engaged a “relatively old” taxi driver — chosen for safety (he’s survived his own driving?), good local stories, and information — and offered him both lunch and payment to find “something really special to eat, something very Nicaraguan.”  So, where would the driver take him, but the best that he would himself want to eat and on his client’s expense?  The lunch of quesillos cost him $12, including the bonus payment.  (He knew to be wary of agua corriente (running water), so he ordered bottled drinks and he was amazed to learn that his leftover drinks were poured into plastic bags, placed on ice, and held for re-sale.)  The only bad meal he had was seafood, but that led to another tip, “when donkey carts are common and women carry baskets on their heads, eat your fish right by the ocean or lake,” because the transportation is slow and refrigeration is rudimentary.

Cowen challenges the snobbery of food writers, commentators, and foodies and their mistaken adherence to three rules: the best food is expensive; large agribusiness is bad; and consumers are not a trusted source of innovation. Despite being a foodie and an environmentalist, I was impressed by the data he uses to support his debunking of these guidelines.  His chapter on the agricultural revolution convinced me that technological progress and agricultural commercialization have brought major and lasting improvements to much of the world.  (I was reminded that the first agricultural revolution was when the Aztecs learned to release the goodness of corn with the addition of mineral lime.)  Finally, his chapter on a greener planet may irk those who’ve made a conscious decision to leave a smaller carbon footprint.  Cowen writes that shopping locally may not be the best choice because transportation costs are only 11% of the total energy cost of food.  My take-home lesson was that foods delivered by cargo ship have the lowest environmental impact (as “floating things are much easier to move”) while air freight has the highest.  Another lesson for readers is to reduce our meat intake.  A Carnegie Mellon study has found that cutting back on red meat one day a week does more for the environment than eating all locally sources foods for all of our meals.

In a chapter on why American food got so bad, he implicated the Prohibition, children, and television.  Furthermore, during World War II, Americans actually ate more meat, but it was of poor quality, including canned meat (Spam, with its high fat and salt content).  Europe, which suffered actual food shortages, did not turn to convenience food (they had no factories to produce them), so what food they had tasted better.  The only bright spot in our history was the arrival of immigrants who vastly improved and diversified our food culture.

The chapter on the American supermarket and Cowen’s month-long experiment to shop only in an Asian market dovetailed with my experience shopping in such markets where the selection of greens is varied and cheap (offered as loss leaders to bring in the customers), the seafood is fresh and smelly which disgusts Americans, and the staff is neither friendly nor fluent in English.  His advice to not block our creativity is to eschew the convenience of the conventional supermarket.

The book has chapters on barbecue, the ultimate “slow food”; why hospitals, cinemas, and city centers have such bad food, and how to find the best meals cheaply.  The chapter on Asian food is a contrast to standard travel guides, in that Cowen does not list best restaurants, but how to find the best food.  The five countries that he deems as having the worst Chinese food are: Italy, Germany, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Chile (for different reasons).  Our family’s worst meal in a Chinese establishment occurred in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, where the Chinese folk are descendants of immigrants of the 19th century, thus out of touch with their cultural touchstones.  He details the traits of the different Asian cuisines and how they fare in America.  The chapter ends with his prescription for how to get a decent Chinese meal at any place.

Here’s a recommendation from Cowen that you would never find in a guidebook:

“In a lot of restaurants, it is a propitious omen if the diners are screaming at each other and appear to be fighting and pursuing blood feuds.  It’s a sign they are regular customers and that they feel at home in the restaurant.  It’s a sign they go there a lot.  Few people show up at a strange restaurant and behave that way, but they might do so in a place where they know the proprietor and staff.  A lot of Chinese restaurants are full of screaming Chinese patrons — don’t ask me if it’s fighting.  I have no idea– but it is a sign I want to be there too.”

 Cowen does not know that three Chinese speaking together do sound like they’re screaming.

The chapter on Mexican food is a case study for the impact of law and wealth on the quality and variety of food.  Cowen compared the sister cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, which were one until after the Mexican-American War of 1848, for their respective meat, cheese (made by Mennonites in Mexico!), lard, tortilla, and tomatoes.  Hands down, the Mexican food is tastier, but the American food is more varied, consistent, and fresh.  He noted that Mexicans regard vegetarians as odd or absurd.  Dietary restriction, other than for Lent, is a notion not well appreciated.

The best chapter for world travelers is the one on how to find great food anywhere and how and why the food in countries are different.  In France (and only in France), Cowen recommends using a Michelin guidebook to identify the cheapest restaurants, i.e., no stars and one or two forks.  Two-forked places are “comfortable,” but the starred places are awarded for culinary innovation and the chef’s prestige.  He writes, “I don’t need the extra innovation and probably I am trying to avoid the innovation.  I seek the perfect pot-au-feu.”  He further describes the best methods for finding good food in Tokyo, Singapore, India, London, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Sicily, Spain, and Istanbul.  I’ll try to apply his strategies on our summer vacation in Scotland.

Book Chat: The Hunger Games

— by Hannah Lee

The next frontier for the savvy and hip gourmet, following up on farm-to-table locavorism, is to source your own food, through foraging and/or hunting.  A timely guidebook for such culinary adventures is The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines, the ultimate in fan tribute to the wildly popular trilogy on The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and now made into a film of the same name.

More after the jump.
Baines is a chef and baker as well as one who’d studied creative writing at the University of Southern California with novelists and short-story writers Aimee Bender and T.C. Boyle.  She was working as an in-house caterer for a post-production sound company in New York — creating new recipes daily — while reading Collins’ books in her leisure and delighting in the refreshing character of Katniss Everdeen, a fierce, resourceful heroine so diametrically different from another protagonist of current young-adult fiction fame, Bella Swan, the clumsy and passive heroine of the Twilight Saga.  Katniss is an inspiring role model, one who thrives under severe circumstances and who cannot be hurried into love by two different male heartthrobs.

The resulting cookbook pays tribute to the characters and settings of the trilogy, with more than 150 recipes for both the spare, survivalist fare of the residents of the 12 districts as well as the decadent cuisine of the denizens of the Capitol.  There is a chapter on wild game and an appendix of edible wild plants, such as might appear in Katniss’s Family Herb book (from the second book, Catching Fire), including burdock, chickweed, evening primrose, and thistle.  Caution: the poetical recipe titles and descriptive explanations (with source citations) would prove to be spoilers, if one has not read all three books.

A nifty “Tips from Your Sponsor” insert for each recipe shows the author’s professional training, giving helpful advice as such using dental floss to cut sticky cinnamon buns and wetting one’s hands before shaping balls of cookie dough.  She notes that homemade whipped cream will not be stiff as what is sold in spray cans.  These box inserts provide scientific explanations, substitutions, and historical notes (beans were used in casting votes in ancient Greece and Rome, with white bean to indicate “yes” and black beans for “no”).  Medicinal uses are included, such as steeping pine needles for a tea as a cold or flu remedy and basil as mosquito repellant.  
One big caveat is that the author does not list market information for the unusual ingredients not found at your local Acme or even Whole Foods.  For her research, she relied on friends who do hunt, so she was able to add four squirrel recipes in her book, including Mr. Mellark’s favorite, fried squirrel.

This book was thoroughly engrossing.  It has recipes for both the novice cook as well as the adventuresome gourmet.  The chapters on wild game and foraged weeds could prove useful for Scout troops in search of fun projects for wilderness survival badges.   Book club youths may prefer the more familiar baking projects.  Note: most of the recipes are not kosher, but a savvy reader can easily identify (and substitute) the ones suitable for a kosher kitchen.  There are even some recipes using quinoa and yucca that would be suitable for Pesach (Passover).  So, if you’re a fan who hankers to try Katniss’s favorite lamb stew with dried plums, Peeta’s cheese buns, or Prim’s peppermint candies, this cookbook is for you.

Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning

The Jewish Book Council has chosen Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning as its Jewish book of the week. Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning was written Ellen Frankel and The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s Living Judaism editor Rabbi Goldie Milgram. Our heartfelt congratulations!

PJVoice readers will surely love, as the cover copy indicates: “to dive into these sixty inspiring and provocative adult-level mitzvah stories crafted by leading Jewish storytellers, rabbis and authors from across the full spectrum of Jewish life. These juried, newly-minted tales reveal how each mitzvah, when carried out with understanding and creativity, becomes a rich source of spirituality and meaning.” Mitzvah Stories cultivates respectful Jewish community and facilitates engaged Jewish living. Meant for reading and retelling across the generations, Mitzvah Stories shows us that Judaism is a spiritual practice.

Information on the companion deck of 52 professionally illustrated Mitzvah Cards follows the jump.

Mitzvah Cards: One Mitzvah Leads to Another

These 52 Mitzvah Cards convey many of the core spiritual practices of a meaningful Jewish life. Draw one card weekly for reflection, study & practice. Or, sort the cards by mitzvot you keep, those for further learning, and those you aren’t ready to take on. Discuss each with a friend or teacher. Guests can also select a card, and then share a mitzvah story or teaching. There are many more engaging applications for Mitzvah Cards. Each card has a pomegranate illustration based on the Talmudic saying “Every Jew is as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds.” Terms appear in Hebrew with transliteration and inspiring explanations. Appropriate for adults through b’nei mitzvah age. Meaningful gift for Hanukkah, birthday, wedding, Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah.

Book Review of OyMG: Jewish Girl, Christian Camp, Holy Moly

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

OyMG is a provocative, important read and discussion for contemporary Jewish parents and clergy – first. Then give it to your teens and students to read and discuss with you. Issues of intergroup dating, in this case Jewish Christian dating, are vibrantly and frankly portrayed in this compelling teen novel format. You will cringe and cry and sigh and wonder and wish you had it in your hands sooner. I couldn’t put it down.

More after the jump.
It’s important for parent groups to get together to discuss this topic, inter-dating that is a vast reality in the melting pot reality that has finally arrived for most Jewish families. Amy Fellner Dominy tells it like it is and has all the characters of inter-dating scenarios spelled out so we can fully identify with their perspectives – the grandfather who collapses, the evangelical Christian grandmother who is after the Jewish girls; soul, the young couple, respectively Jewish and Christian who are in love, and the private school scholarship opportunity that challenges the Jewish girl’s willingness to keep a firm hold on her Jewish identity when a longed-for prize looms close at hand.  

Parents and educators, after you read and discuss this book with each other, then give it to your students/children ages 14 and up to read. There’s a discussion guide on the author’s website, Amydominy.com.  

I recommend you discuss the story closely with youth and encourage youth groups to take up the book for discussion as well. When with teens, your own, classes or youth groups —  listen for their ideas and values. Teens and adolescents won’t be able to take in your views unless you first listen theirs respectfully. When we meet youth where they are in their emotional, spiritual and physical lives and reflect back their views and experiences without judgement or they will be less likely to hide their actions and intents.

How to set them up not to resist our hopes and dreams, which can lead to their potentially endangering themselves, as well as losing their sense of commitment to Jewish lives and families, is not easy. Please blog-in with our views and approaches. While visiting South Africa, several women and men said their parents had phrased things very clearly and helpfully for them. “While we hope you will find a Jewish person to date and marry, we recognize the numbers are small here. So when you date, do be very clear with a non-Jewish person that you can’t marry someone who doesn’t first become Jewish, because having a Jewish family is one of the most beautiful and important things for you.” And, more often then not, , I meet South African spouses born in other traditions who are now Jewish and in many ways more involved Jewishly than even their own Jewish partners.

Relationship shift happen of necessity as we move from the commanding position of parenting children to guiding young adults. We will create dating policies for our youth, curfews and more to try to keep them safe and in line with our values and to keep them safe.  Even so, as a parent, step-parent and step-grandparent, I have noticed that it is our caliber of relationship with them will prove the most effective tool for holiness and happiness, safety and good decisions to prevail. Try OmGD, it will definitely create the basis for necessary discussion, parent-youth, teacher-student, and book groups, too.

OyMG is a tough subject presented in an open-hearted way with a fast-reading, compelling narrative. In the months since reading it  I’ve found myself recommending this powerful novel to many parents, educators and clergy as well as to teens who study with me privately.   I know the author would like it to just be put straight into the hands of teens, which you might elect to do. Hopefully your relationship with your children, grandchildren or students is such that a holy and healthy discussion of crucial matters for their lives like dating, is one of your important goals.  

OyMG by Amy Fellner, Dominy Walker & Company, Hardcover 256 pages, $16.99/$21.00 Can., Ages: 12 and up

Health Care Might Not Be A Laughing Matter, But It Is A Comic Book

  • You won’t have to worry about going broke if you get sick.
  • We will start to bring the costs of health care under control.
  • And we will do all this while reducing the federal deficit.

That is the promise of the Affordable Care Act. But from the moment President Obama signed the bill into law in 2010, a steady and mounting avalanche of misinformation about the ACA has left a growing majority of Americans confused about what it is, why it’s necessary, and how it works. If you’re one of them, buy Jonathan Gruber’s new book Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works for yourself. (Perhaps get extra copies to give as Hanukkah gifts). From how to tame the twin threats of rising costs and the increasing number of uninsured to why an insurance mandate is good for your health, Health Care Reform dispels false fears by arming you with facts.

The author was interviewed by WBUR:

I think Mitt Romney is the hero of this story. But I want to make clear that the way he’s portrayed in this book has nothing to do with his presidential campaign. Mitt Romney is the single person most responsible for health care reform in this country: Without his leadership we don’t get reform in Massachusetts, and without Massachusetts reform we don’t get national reform.

Sample page from book and JSPAN’s resolution regarding ACA after the jump.
At its meeting on August 2, 2011, the JSPAN Board adopted the following resolution:

JSPAN, in keeping with the Biblical injunction that we are each others’ keepers, supports the availability of quality, affordable health care for all Americans. We support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 as a critical step in achieving such availability. As the “mandate” section of the legislation, requiring all Americans to have health insurance, is essential for the Act to succeed and appears constitutionally valid as a federal power to regulate interstate commerce and assure the well being of the American people, JSPAN should investigate serving as an amicus in support of the defense of the Act in cases currently being heard by federal appellate courts and expected to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Go The F**k to Sleep at the Nat’l Museum of Amer. Jewish History

Join popular author of Go the F-k to Sleep and critically acclaimed novelist Adam Mansbach in a conversation about his ongoing journey as a young writer, the intersection of Black and Jewish cultures… and, of course, his reaction to the success of his recent non-traditional parenting book.  

  • Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 7:00pm
  • National Museum of American Jewish History, 101 S. Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Members $10, Non-members $12

Adam’s novels include The End of the Jews: A Novel, winner of the California Book Award, and the best-selling Angry Black White Boy: A Novel, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2005.  His fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Believer, Granta, the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications.

For details see the Philadelphia Jewish Voice Community Calendar.

Book Chat


— by Hannah Lee

As a Chinese-American, I am neither white nor black and I am privileged to observe the nuances of race relations in this country as a bystander (except when my own racial heritage is a source of grievance).  I wonder if an academic awareness of an issue allows one to appreciate the inherent complexities?

I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and I was riveted but very perturbed by its central issue of race relations.  Set in 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, a young white woman interviews and edits the painful narratives of black maids about their relationships with their white employers.  I  wanted to identify a black perspective.  Another friend cautioned me that I cannot generalize to all blacks, as African immigrants and people with Caribbean roots do not share the same experience as those descended from slaves brought to America.  No, indeed, but I was sure that a black person would respond differently to the book.

More after the jump.
I spoke with a black staffer at my local library, someone whom I’ve known for the 21 years that my family has lived in this community.  She did not enjoy the book as did the white readers who have praised The Help, launching it onto the bestseller lists.  She could forecast how the plot would go, and she skipped over parts.  Her niece was bored by it and never did finish the book.  I asked her if it would have been a better book if it had been written by a black author, but she demurred at that.

Could the difference lie in perspective?  Events resonate more when they become personal, as Jews are instructed to imagine that they themselves are leaving Egypt during the Passover seder.  Issues become more painful.  It took me a few years before I could follow a friend’s recommendation for Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
, because the central character, a child, dies from an epileptic seizure and my child has the same disorder.I’ve read that people like horror films because they find it cathartic, a vicarious experience that leaves them relieved to be safe and ordinary.  I wonder if readers of The Help become more understanding?  Are some readers smug that they are not racist and do not harbor any prejudicial intent?  Or do they have a renewed sensitivity to insults to human dignity?  Do they speak out in protest?My Rabbi has noted that we do not feel pain to the same degree when a tragedy, a violation, happens to someone else.  However, the challenge is in the striving to maintain sensitivity and that is a hallmark of a compassionate person.

I attended a book discussion along with my friend who grew up in the South.  She found the novel realistic, and told me later that the others (all white women) did not appreciate the fact that though the overt theme of the book was racism, the same kind of prejudice and peer control exist in other times, other places, including our own.  I attempted to point out that the new theory on bully-behavior management, is not to address the bully directly, but to educate the silent majority, that they can take control of a situation by speaking up.  The queen bee, Hilly, from the novel could not have continued in her role, if the others did not let her do so.  However, most people were too afraid, ignorant, or blind to the racial divide in a society in which they had a comfortable perch.  I wonder if readers would become more conscious and sensitive to injustice around them?  I made a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird, which is now a classic.  Did readers of the time immediately take to its message?

The film version, starring Emma Stone as the ingenue reporter, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, Viola Davis as her source, a black housekeeper named Aibileen Clark, and Bryce Dallas Howard as their nemesis, the controlling Hilly Holbrook, will open in the local cinemas on August 10th.

Just Get Dressed!


or How To Get Out Of The House In The Morning On Time And With Your Sanity Intact

— by Brandi Davis

It is 7 am. Your hair is wet, you are half shaven, the coffee has yet to kick in, and the adorable
little angel that you tucked in last night has transformed into a demanding, tearful, screaming, tantrum machine, all because you asked them to get dressed. They loved that outfit last week, but it becomes abundantly clear as it flies across the room that it is a favorite no more. An activity that should take 15 minutes has turned into a wet haired, pressure rising, yelling, hour and a half long struggle. Your child ends up being late to school and you, late to work. Your day is shot, but what is even worse is that today was not the first time that your morning has begun this way. This scene is now playing out all of the time. And about what?

Clothes!

More after the jump.
Ok, it is time to cool down, step back, and take a look at what is going on. As it has been said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It is O.K. though. It happens to the best of us. We all find ourselves in a rut from time to time. Repeating the same action over and over and not knowing how to change our situation, but now it is time to turn a rut into a learning experience. A time to try something new. Here are some tips that may help you on your journey to a new, more enjoyable, morning adventure.

Your child has a need to feel in control of their lives.

By letting them control some of the smaller decisions in their lives, you will find the choice decisions being left to you.

Children enjoy expressing themselves with their clothing.

Oh, and yes I am talking about your 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 11 year old. Is it really THAT big a deal if they think green stripes go with purple polka dots? The respect that you are giving them by letting them express themselves will be a strong foundation in the building of their sense of self and confidence.

You can give your child choices but still keep them weather appropriate.

Make seasonal drawers so that in the winter your child can only pick clothes from the “winter” drawers and they do not try to walk out of the door in a skirt and a tank top. Oh trust me; they will try to do that.

Here is a fun ditty that will help keep your kids focused and on track.

At night tell your child to “pick out your clothes from their head to your toes.” This way your child will know what to expect in the morning. They will know that what is out to wear was their choosing. (And I am not kidding. Have your child pick out clothes all the way down to socks and shoes or there will be a battle over that in the morning.)

Most important of all is recognizing that your parenting skills are not reflected by your child’s
clothes matching, but instead, they are reflected by the skills and sense of self with which you send them off into the world. Watch as your child walks out of the house or into their classroom wearing brown sweatpants and a red and yellow sweater, or black pants and black shirt and black spiked hair and think to yourself, “I am a great parent!” Oh feel free to allow yourself a little giggle when they are out of sight. I mean really. They are wearing brown sweatpants with a red and yellow sweater. What a great story for the office!

Brandi Davis’s book Ok, I’m a Parent Now What will appear on May 1.