For most of my adult life I’ve been an educator, as well as a freelance journalist and an author, an international expert on the psychology of personality, and since the age of thirteen an anti-apartheid activist in my motherland, South Africa.

Let’s start there—the racist ideological madmen whom we opposed in South Africa at least believed in something, albeit a despicable racist ideology.

Drumpf believes in nothing except himself and his brand…and that’s it. He is non-empathic and unaware of the damage his lies do to other Americans and his country. He’s a racist. He’s a psychologically impaired ego- and megalomaniac. He is in the same league as all the most infamous villains of history. That alone should disqualify him for President.

Drumpf is the most pervasive negative role model for our children and grandchildren.

I’ve written a book on parenting, I’ve taught hundreds, if not into the low thousands of highly intelligent, young people, about moral responsibility, human rights, reality and illusion, and perhaps, most importantly, how to think and write critically.

* Drumpf models that it’s perfectly acceptable to be an ill-prepared, foul-mouthed, morally blind ignoramus. As long as you can lie and lie again, and bully and browbeat, you can be President.

*Drumpf models to them that bluster and bullying, screaming obscenities at individuals and groups is acceptable —after all he’s running for President; he’s the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, he must be okay.

* Drumpf lies and double downs, contradicts himself, lies again. He is a national embarrassment. He is a vaudeville villain, a clown, a con man, a cheat, a liar, a liar, and a liar.

HE IS A PATHOLOGICAL LIAR. He models to America and the world’s children that it’s okay to lie. And lie, and lie.

* He signals to America’s allies and enemies that his word is NEVER TO BE TRUSTED.

* He signals to Americans not only that can WE NEVER TRUST HIM but the sure road ahead if he becomes President will be to upend 240 years of progress, of tearing up the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

*He is the greatest danger to America’s future and that means the international order too.

Can you imagine Drumpf trying to deal with a major catastrophe; he’ll blame the victims.

He’ll shirk responsibility. He won’t spend time in the White House; he’ll go back to his shyster business dealings. He and his wife will visit occasionally. Pence will be our president except in name…. and on and on.

My heartfelt appeal is directed to Republican leaders TO DITCH DRUMPF. Let’s put our country back on a path of sanity. He is America’s greatest failure.



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511xyIJM23LA Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet: My Grandfather’s SS Past, My Jewish Family, A Search for the Truth by Rita Gabis

History, Holocaust, Memoir

Reviewer: Janet Levine

“In this intricate and intimate journey Rita Gabis brings macrocosmic Holocaust horror into the microcosm of our dining rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms—a noble feat, one you will not soon forget.”

Author Rita Gabis is an award-winning poet and historian. This book induces a heart-impacting emotional blow. The metaphoric syntactical language and construction of her research and discoveries in A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet—as they are uncovered and cataloged in carefully layered detail—is clear evidence of a poet’s eyes, ears, and emotional sensibility. Just as an archaeologist uses tiny brushes and tooth picks to bring to light long-buried artifacts and bones, so Gabis’ selective use of words—both those she finds in her research and those she chooses to portray her discoveries—alone make this book a valuable addition to Holocaust literature, as well as memoir writing.

Lithuania is at the epicenter of her memoir. The Holocaust in Nazi occupied Lithuania is responsible for the near total destruction of Lithuanian Jews living in Nazi-controlled Lithuanian and Polish territories. More than ninety five percent of Lithuania’s Jewish population was slaughtered over the three-year German occupation, a higher number than any other country suffered during the Holocaust. Out of approximately 208,000 to 210,000 Jews, an estimated 190,000–195,000 were killed during this mass extermination between June and December 1941.

Gabis aligned with many other historians to situate culpability for this massive horror largely on organized, local collaboration by non-Jewish Lithuanians.

U.S. born Gabis’ maternal parentage is Lithuanian Catholic and paternal, Eastern European Jews. The two sides were mainly separate in her childhood and youth. She was raised largely among her mid-western Lithuanian Catholic family. They spent time in the summers with her Jewish grandmother and other relatives on Martha’s Vineyard. Her second marriage is to a Jew.

A key figure in Gabis’ childhood and adolescence was her beloved Lithuanian grandfather whom she called Senelis. Around five years ago (2010) she was horrified to learn that between 1941 and 1943 her grandfather served as the chief of Security Police under the Gestapo in the Lithuanian town of ?ven?ionys. (The home of her maternal family. Some relatives live there still.)

During the fall of 1941, 8,000 Jews were murdered over the course of three days in the nearby killing field of Poligon (“range” in Lithuanian). The local Polish population was likewise hunted down and killed over the following year.

One of Gubis’ major pre-occupations was to hear from firsthand witnesses to the Poligon massacre what happened and what role her grandfather played. Her exhaustive research was as much to try to disprove what she had learned about him, as to prove his war crimes. The other question looming large for her is how her grandfather and family were allowed entry to the United States in 1945. How was he able to gain immigration permission? Did he lie about his Nazi collaboration? Or did he lie by omission? Or something else?

(Some historical context: Thousands of local Jews and Poles perished during WWII. One Holocaust memorial of the Poligon massacre reads: “Here lie 8000 Jews from ?ven?ionys and its vicinity, who were murdered by the German Nazis and their local assistants on the 15th and 16th of Tishrei 5702 (October 7th and 8th 1941).”

As Gubis learned of the Jews of Svintsyan (now Svencioneliai) and Jews brought to the Ghetto from surrounding communities were locked in the barracks at Poligon (a former Polish army camp) for several days and then shot, a total of 3,726 Jews from the Svintsyan Ghetto—1,169 Jewish men, 1,840 Jewish women, and 717 Jewish children. Svintsyan Ghetto was completely liquidated in April 1943 when the remaining Jews were packed into boxcars. Told they were going to Kovno, they were taken instead at Ponary, the mass slaughter site of Jews from Vilna. One guard opened the door and told the occupants to run, but guards shot at them with only a few making it to the forest. (Among many of Gubis’ interviewees, one eyewitness reveals shocking details of this atrocity.)

Initially when Gubis learned of her grandfather’s collaboration with the Nazi occupiers a huge hole opened beneath her. In an attempt to still the aftershocks to her identity and thoroughly shaken sense of self, she embarked on a four-year journey of discovery to four countries—Lithuania, Germany, Israel and Poland—to interview witnesses to the atrocities and the Nazi occupation.

She searched out relatives, Holocaust survivors, and witnesses. She conducted painstaking and impeccable research in archives and libraries starting in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. She found troves of source material in all these countries, testament to the efforts of many people to document the horrors of those years. Almost desperately she sought proof positive that her grandfather was indeed a high-level Lithuanian collaborator and not the warm, generous, and loving figure of her youth—or maybe both.

On one occasion when Gubis visited ?ven?ionys, she spoke with a local Holocaust archivist:

“’I’ve heard that after the killings at Poligon, there was a banquet in ?ven?ionys for the shooters.’

‘It was quite common for there to be’—he pauses, looking for a word—‘parties afterward for those who participated. It happened in many places.’

His face is flat, readable and unreadable at the same time. A rather slight, gentle man, he is not the person you would expect to find trudging through the violence of his country’s past.”

From this man’s memory and other information arise the title of the book. Was her grandfather among the shooters or the one organizing the Jews into groups of 50 as they shuffled off to be shot? The Lithuanian Security Police worked with a list. Had Senelis drawn up the list? Did he attend the banquet that welcomed the shooters, men already drunk with killing and alcohol as they returned each night from slaughtering men, women and children in the thousands? Was he at the main table hobnobbing and laughing with the Nazis in charge of the massacre?

Gubis’ descriptions of the banquets and the massacre and much else sear the reader’s mind. On one of her Lithuanian trips accompanied by a local guide she arranges to see the site of the Poligon massacre, a long mound of earth now. She walks on the same road the massacred Jews did from the barracks to the killing mound:

“It occurs to me that I’m in exactly the right shape to take this road. That anyone who walks it should feel like vomiting. Anyone who passes the long, thin shadow of trees, the sky announcing the entrance of summer, should feel the earth spin and not be able to stop it.

“I think they were brought in that way,” she says. (Gierde, [the guide])

The road is sandy, stretches further than I can see. One road? For eight thousand people.”

Gubis imagines the scene based on what she sees as well as eyewitness accounts she hears:

“At Poligon the ground was littered with rags, caps, headscarves of family and friends. Frost heaves opened the earth. Nearby farmers must have dreaded the coming spring, a thaw and washouts that would carry bones into the rye and flax fields. They had crop quotas the local “headmen” handed down from the Germans—unmet the last summer of ’41 and after the fall harvest of the same year. And now spring would mean corpses of Jews showing up like a nightmare, Jews who had a way of wreaking havoc, even dead Jews, even the Jews who were your friends.”


“The men three hundred or so of them had to dig into brush at least three meters deep. The problem with rain, steady, fall rain, is that it fills up the hollow you’ve made in the ground, so you’re standing in water as you lift the mud out. And lift it out again. In the bushes Vlad Ankyanets testifies, there were approximately thirty policemen milling around, ten to fifteen local Lithuanians and two Germans. The diggers had been ordered to show up at the Svencioneliai magistrate’s at 9.00 pm with shovels and the magistrate’s secretary thrust into their hands at their own doorsteps. Ankyanets and the other four were lined up in groups of four and went across a bridge to the Zeimiani River to the site where the pit needed to be made ready by morning… Jews had to be exterminated.

A Guest at the Shooter’s Banquet is a major contribution to our collective memory of “man’s inhumanity to man.” But Gubis’ singular achievement is to render a family memoir that is both tender and fierce from the most terrible inhumanity—in scale at least—we have ever witnessed. In this intricate and intimate journey she brings macrocosmic Holocaust horror into the microcosm of our dining rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms—a noble feat, one you will not soon forget.


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Primates of Park Avenue

Image of Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir
Reviewed by:

Primates is a single-season sensation that does little more than titillate.”

Primates of Park Avenue, a runaway New York Times best seller, has found a huge readership and been touted as the “beach read” of this summer. MGM won the film rights, and we can only wait to see who in the forthcoming movie will fill Meryl Streep’s shoes (The Devil Wears Prada) as paragons of elitist, secluded wealth and those who cater to it.

The book’s author, Wednesday Martin, is smart, a good observer and a strong writer, but also, left some timeframes unspecified and adjusted chronologies. Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, admitted this only after the New York Post conducted an exhaustive investigation of the “facts” in the book and exposed several inconsistencies.

Simon and Schuster said they would add a note to the ebook and subsequent print editions clarifying the “changes” Martin made. This renders her book at least part fiction and not entirely credible. This controversy has many reviewers suggesting the book be labeled “fiction” and not “memoir.”

Martin, with a PH.D in Comparative Literature, cleverly identified a niche and used her amateur anthropological lens to exploit it. She is in good company. William Shakespeare mined this vein, too. Can you think of one Shakespearian play that does not revolve around characters of royal, noble or otherwise “upper” class birth? The hardworking, everyday Jacks and Jills of the world have always had a fascination with those who make up the “elites.”

In the United States we idolize popular culture, celebrity, and money, and raise those who have “it all” to iconic perches no matter their often-bizarre behavior and sensationalized immorality. And we love to tear them down . . . we sate ourselves on their fall as portrayed in the media.

Martin does not tear down but pokes in a genteel, sarcastic Upper East Side way at the rituals, behaviors, and cultural mores of the value system of those in her neighborhood. After all she should know the Upper East Side; she lives there, her children attend school there, presumably she has friends there.

What then is she writing about? Behavioral patterns such as food gathering and eating habits, attaining and maintaining specific female body images, female mating rituals, ornamentation, accrual of cash and other commodities in competition to be an alpha female, parenting norms, and how male partners are sexually satisfied, in return for providing material resources for these same female behavior patterns.

Martin frames her narrative in terms of anthropological fieldwork. But her approach is far from serious primatology study. If you have read any of Margaret Mead’s painstaking research and careful fact checking or the anthropological pioneering work of, say, Bronislaw Malinowski’s The Sexual Life of Savages, you would know that exaggeration and sensationalism have no place in nonfiction.

But Martin does exactly that—exaggerate—and now she profits from those who live these truly exaggerated lives that existed in absurdly outrageous self-indulgence long before she shone a spotlight.

These exaggerations mar what is otherwise mainly an incisive social commentary that may have been a better book if fictionalized, such as Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities or Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections or Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. These socially aware and consciousness-raising novels put entire American generations and their zeitgeist under scrutiny, and shake us to our very cores. Sadly, Primates is a single-season sensation that does little more than titillate.


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by T. Berry Brazelton   Reviewed by Janet Levine | Released: April 29, 2013   Publisher: Da Capo Press (256 pages)
Review published in New York Journal of Books

0738216674.01._PC_SCLZZZZZZZ_“Such is the importance of Dr. Brazelton’s work that this sensitive memoir fills a gap as to the theoretical and practical roots of contemporary child raising practice.”

I was a Dr. Spock baby.

My mother cared for me “by the book” the famous Baby and Child Care. She proudly gave me her much used copy when my first child was born. I paged through it with growing bemusement (Spock’s methodology was contrary to everything I wanted to be as a mother) because I had already prepped myself on Dr. Brazelton’s Infant and Mothers and What Every Baby Knows.

These books, in setting out Dr. Brazelton’s observations and advice, debunked much of Spock’s regimen. In preparation for writing this review I took a sampling of younger mothers (those mainly in their thirties), some had heard of Dr. Brazelton but many now utilized and relied on other childcare gurus.

Such is the importance of Dr. Brazelton’s work that this sensitive memoir fills a gap as to the theoretical and practical roots of contemporary child raising practice.

Learning to Listen is a timely reminder (on Brazelton’s 95th birthday) of his huge contribution to child rearing.

Dr. Brazelton details and pays tribute to the many colleagues he listened to and cooperated with and to whom he owes a debt for the theory and practice he then shared with hundreds of pediatricians and scores of thousands of patients.

Most importantly Dr. Brazelton listened, observed and learned from babies.

Newborns have a special place in his heart and the chapter on “Discovering the Power of Newborns” rivets attention, especially the section on how the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) was developed from the work of Heinz Prechtl.

Prechtl identified six states of neonatal consciousness (deep sleep, light sleep, an indeterminate state, wide awake, fussing, and crying). As Dr. Brazelton writes “these states were the matrix on which different kinds of newborns’ responses depended. Unless one respected the state of the baby, you couldn’t get a reliable response.”

The scale became know as the Brazelton scale. It is fundamental to Brazelton’s understanding of how to give parents insight into their baby.

In other sections Dr. Brazelton writes of the development of his widely (and wildly) influential four point, Touchpoints model, positing in child rearing instead of a stimuli-response model the family becomes a system in which each member is in balance with the other members. He also explains his advocacy for children on the national political stage during the years of the Clinton administration’s foray into the health care debate.

The opening chapters lay a strong foundation for understanding the influences on Dr. Brazelton’s life. They relate his childhood in Waco, Texas, his college experience at Princeton, and the early days of his medical training and residencies in Boston—a compassionate glimpse at the young boy and man who became such an internationally trusted pediatrician.

He unsparingly denotes his emotional struggles with his father and younger brother juxtaposed with his love for his mother, as well as for an older black woman, Annie May, his nanny.

At Princeton he shone both academically and as a theatrical performer and even considered Broadway as a career path. But he chose medicine. The Second World War interrupted his medical internship in Boston (where he confesses he did not learn much sitting in lectures without any hands on training.) He served as a doctor on a DE (a small ship used as Destroyer Escorts.)

Later, gradually, he found his place in the thriving Boston medical universe and began to be noticed by leaders in the field of pediatrics.

A singular contribution to the memoir is Dr. Brazelton’s account of his research with newborns in other cultures. For years he asked many questions of himself as to similarities and differences in newborns in various cultures—genes, nutrition, experiences in utero, and delivery.

Availing himself of any opportunity, over decades he visited and worked with babies and parents in Southern Mexico (Mayan culture), Guatemala, Kenya, Japan, China, and in New Mexico among the Navajos.

Dr. Brazelton’s descriptions are sensitive and thorough. I learned so much. He concludes “The spectrum of differences in infant behavior or in parents’ ways of handling neonates in these various cultures are valuable to those caring for parents and babies in the United States. Despite individual variations within each culture, the differences . . . point the way to many potential changes in our child-care arrangements and our educational system.”

He is still dispensing well-researched and hard won practical advice. Dr. Brazelton’s Learning to Listen is a must-read for professionals and lay people alike—anyone interested in babies and in parenting.


Janet Levine is a journalist and author of four books including Know Your Parenting Personality: How to Use the Enneagram to Become the Best Parent You Can Be.


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Having read and thought so highly of Tsukiyama’s 1996 book “The Samurai’s Garden” I was excited to pick up “Dreaming Water” last week. It is well-reviewed and Tsukiyama is an esteemed American novelist but this one was obviously not for me. The subject matter of the protagonist’s battle with Werner’s syndrome is intriguing but I found the narrative flow jarred by the shifts of POV. The book never “took off”, found a rhythm, drew me in. I so wanted to love this book but I never did. Perhaps you will.


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Yesterday I opened a Twitter account @jlevinegrp.

This is a big step. For months now many of my valued blog readers have asked me if I have a Twitter account so they can become a follower. So now I can shout out, “Yes, I do. Hope to connect with you.” Several factors coincided to move me to act now. The first is already stated. I am so grateful to all my blog readers and those who take the time to leave comments on the blogs. One hundred and ten thousand of you in the last three months! Thank you for being so loyal and proactive. Not all the comments make it onto the blogs, maybe I am too discerning a censor? I approve comments from people who use a personal name (as opposed to a business label), I try to catch and trash all the porn and references to porn, and political or other, propaganda. Unfortunately I can’t approve those in a language other than English (I don’t know what they contain) but do approve the occasional comment in French. If someone left a comment in Afrikaans or Dutch, I can respond to those, too.

Secondly, the pressure and temptation to be a member of a social network is overwhelming. I am a social person, I love forging connections, networking, and as I wrote in a previous blog, we live now largely  in a brave new world on a LCD lit screen that we hold on our hands, balance on our laps or spend hours with on our desks. Addiction, did anyone say the word, addiction? This pressure only increased when recently I received an e-mail from an older friend, whom I mentioned in that same blog as being an unlikely kindle owner, asking me to be her friend on Facebook. This was a revelation to me and I decided (as they say) that I had better get with the program.

Continue Reading


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Virginia Woolf said famously in 1928 at Girton when addressing a group of those first women to attend Cambridge University in Cambridge, England, the hallowed sanctum of male intellectual and creative life that helped to ensure male hegemony for the eight hundred preceding years, both in Great Britain and indeed the far-flung British Empire, (and that largely continues today) that if we have “five hundred [pounds] a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think…and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.”

I was reminded of this sterling essay from one of my favorite thinkers and authors the other night when I attended a showing of a documentary Who Does She Think She is? This is hard-hitting, factual reportage of several outstanding women artists—potters, ceramists, painters, singers, film makers—to honor their creativity while juggling the raising of children, relating to spouses and partners, washing dishes and car pooling, in other words quilting a patchwork life.

The greatest toll on these artists is in relating to their spouses or partners, specifically male, whose expectations are shaped by society and familial expectations that the woman partner support their endeavors artistic or otherwise, and while they support their female counterparts—it is only to a point. Now of course there are variants on these themes but that is the general pattern. Surprisingly male children of these struggling artists—who generate their livelihood from their work primarily to feed their children—support, admire and honor their mothers.

The venue for this showing was a meeting room at a retreat center in suburban Philadelphia where thirty women writers (who are also teachers) were meeting for a weekend retreat of writing, sharing and networking. It was striking to me that the film- maker interviewing a male physician, an ardent feminist himself went on record reminding us that the great women writers and artists of the last one hundred and fifty years—ranging from Emily Dickinson, Colette, Georgia O’Keefe and Woolf herself—did not have children.

In discussion after the showing many participants shared that the struggles we had just witnessed on film still speak strongly to the patterns and events of their current lives. I thought of my life, the first woman in my family to attend university, my two wonderful sons, my political career in South Africa that included elected public office at a young age, my publishing career that began when I was an adolescent and fortunately continues, my love of teaching—but also of my divorce after twenty six years of marriage. I thought of my mother and the women of her generation and the generations that came before her without these opportunities and those women all over the world who struggle daily with this reality. It is my profound belief that we cannot create a “whole” world while more than half of humanity is barely valued and even more rarely acknowledged in public domains—such as that of artistic expression.

I will blog again on my thoughts of this retreat weekend, but now it is time for me to return after a many month hiatus to grapple with my current writing project that is requiring more “freedom and the courage to write exactly what [I] think” than I have experienced before.


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