Category Archives: Family

The Joys of Plastic Lice: Passover toys celebrate Ancient Egypt’s regime change

Ten Plagues Bag of Toys -- More fun than spilling wine on a paper plate

CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
“Passover toys celebrate Ancient Egypt’s regime change”
Originally Published:
The Telegraph, April 10, 2003

As an adult, I find the Passover story to be compelling and overflowing with life-affirming themes. Survival. Freedom. Redemption. Triumph of the Human Spirit. As a kid, I was preoccupied with two themes: “When is this story going to end?” and “Why is my family service sponsored by Maxwell House coffee?

Passover, which commemorates Moses’ showdown with Pharaoh, begins next week. On the first two nights, Jewish families retell the story at Seders (a dinner-prayer combo), and read from the Hagaddah. The English translations of these Hagaddahs are horrendous, written by Shakespeare wannabes who sprinkle around words like “whilst,” and “thee.” After the sixth or seventh poem about rams and sheep skipping around the Sea of Galilee, the average kid is zonked.

Many Hagaddahs printed in the 1950s and 1960s, and handed down to the next generation, were published by Maxwell House coffee. The back page shows a happy Jewish family gathered around the Passover table and enjoying a freshly brewed pot of coffee. What better way to commemorate the liberation of the Hebrew slaves, after 400 years of pyramid construction, than to pour your loved one a cup of Maxwell House?

I don’t know if Sanka or Taster’s Choice ever infiltrated Easter Baskets, but I am proud to report that this marketing ploy was not 100 percent effective. I never touch the stuff.

On behalf of all the children celebrating Passover next week, I implore parents to shake up the Seder plate a bit. If cute little Aaron or Rachel are staring at the coffee ads, you have sentenced them to an evening of intolerable boredom. Luckily for the kids, there is a growing adult movement to make Passover more engaging. Two examples are the Exodus board game and the “Plagues Bag.”

The Exodus game is Passover’s version of Trivial Pursuit. Answering the Who, What, Where, Why and How the Israelites bolted from Egypt brings you one step closer to the Promised Land. First one to cross the Jordan River wins.

“Exodus came out of the desire to get my family recharged about Passover,” says game creator Syndi Kercher, a school teacher from Tucson, Arizona. “I invented the game for us to use during our Seder and we had a blast… Other things I’ve done is play Passover Jeopardy, held the Seder picnic style in the backyard, and held multiethnic/spiritual Seders in the park.”

Exodus, aimed at ages 8 and up, is content driven and will delight parents who prefer not to resort to a Moses vs. Pharaoh video game to get their message across. But will kids want to play? You bet. Even without questions about Harry Potter, it is a game that involves winning and losing. I remember even in junior high school our Spanish class would be clamoring for the chance to play “Vocabulary Volleyball.”

Out of context, you may expect the “Plagues Bag” to be filled with anthrax. But of course, it refers to the infamous Ten Plagues that convinced Pharaoh that Moses was backed by the world’s most formidable superpower, God. The Plagues Bag is filled with the following gimmicks/toys:

1. BLOOD – Red food coloring to turn the Nile into hemoglobin.
2. FROGS – A springloaded frog that does a backflip and lands on its feet.
3. LICE – Black plastic lice that could double as plastic ants.
4. WILD BEASTS – A rubber elephant nose representing the wildlife rampaging through downtown Cairo.
5. CATTLE DISEASE – A collapsible plastic cow with wobbly knees recalling Pharaoh’s agricultural woes.
6. BOILS – Bubble wrap which is more pleasant to pop than skin lesions.
7. HAIL – Styrofoam balls.
8. LOCUSTS – A hot pink grasshopper.
9. DARKNESS – Cardboard sunglasses.
10. DEATH OF THE FIRST BORN – A jigsaw puzzle of a distressed Egyptian mother.

The assortment of trinkets is packaged in a handsome burlap sack that summons up the image of papyrus hieroglyphics. Toy quality is also a level above Skee Ball prizes or birthday party booty, making it likely kids can use the same plague props a few years in a row.

Plagues Bag creator Simon Jaffe, executive director of Congregation B’Nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ, was inspired by his daughters Kori and Molly.

“I didn’t want the Seder to be as uninteresting as the one’s I remembered from my childhood,” he says. “… To me the purpose of the Seder is to bring the next generation into the collective memory of our people and our history.”

Jaffe has sold more than 60,000 of the Plagues Bags to raise money for scholarships and educational programs. Beyond the plagues, he also places a bowl of goldfish on the table as a reminder of the parting of the Red Sea and dresses up as Moses for the second half of the Seder.

“My guests’ favorite plagues are the plastic lice and hail balls which they love to hurl at each other,” reveals Jaffe. “The most difficult plague to represent was death of the first born because of the harshness of it. What I decided to use was I think most respectful of the severity of the plague.”

My only critique is that Jaffe doesn’t include enough lice. Six little critters isn’t enough to infest a single scalp, let alone a whole table full.

Lice portions aside, both the Plagues Bag and the Exodus game are two steps in the right direction to make the Seder table a desirable destination for kids. And neither toy contains propaganda for the coffee companies.


** Why I would have been a horrible Pharaoh !

** Schlock Flashback: Steven Spielberg’s Country Music Moses

** The Joys of Plastic Lice: Passover toys celebrate Ancient Egypt’s regime change

** Schlock Flashback: Origins of the Moses Duck

** Let My Tastebuds Go: I dare you to try Passover breakfast cereal!

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I’m not dissing Chanukah, but that oil miracle was SO overrated!

Judah Maccabee Potato Head -- Can you guess the Chanukah mistake in this otherwise FANTASTIC New Hampshire Magazine cartoon by Brad Fitzpatrick?

Yes, it’s true….  The Chanukah oil lasting eight days is absolutely God’s least impressive miracle of all time.

Yet, I’m thrilled it happened.  Find out why in this month’s New Hampshire Magazine, which is quickly becoming the MUST-READ periodical for up-and-coming Jewish scholars.

Another must-read for the Festival of Lights is Did Judah Maccabee Ever Celebrate Naked Time?… EIGHT fun, family-friendly suggestions to enhance your Chanukah traditions!” If you are inspired by any of Stacy’s research, please tell her that Darren sent you.

I LOVE Stacy Garnick — and that is an unpaid testimonial!

Lastly, Happy Chanukah to all my pro-Chanukah friends and colleagues.  Go out and learn these dance steps now….

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Pre-Swine Flu Nostalgia: Feeling sentimental about good old-fashioned germ-o-phobia

I used to mock Purell when it first came on the market. Now I may as well drink the stuff.

I used to mock Purell when it first came on the market. Now I may as well drink the stuff.

CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
“PARANOIA AIR: Germ-o-phobia overtakes supermarket carts, airplanes”
The Telegraph
Originally Published: January 19, 2006
Like many overprotective parents, I zealously keep my toddler away
from chainsaws, pit bulls and downed electrical lines. But there’s one
hazard that terrifies me above all the others.

Despite explicit instructions not to touch a molecule, regardless of
how pristine it may appear, my three-year-old son acts like a “Price
Is Right” game show hostess in a public restroom. He slowly brushes
his hand across the stall partitions and the waste baskets. He
showcases the paper towel and soap dispensers. His fingerprints even
wind up on the floor tiles.

Scrubbing him down is a logistical nightmare because he cannot reach
the sink. I tuck him underneath one arm like a football and use the
other hand to rub his hands with soap. In the end, at least a half
gallon of water winds up on his shirt. When my child is tall enough,
I’ll teach him the essentials of urinal yoga: How to flush any toilet
with your sneaker.

I thought I was superparanoid about germs until I stumbled across The
Wall Street Journal’s recent consumer tests of anti-bacterial products
for airline passengers. As bad as a raunchy gas station bathroom or
portable toilet is, an airplane is essentially a petri dish with
wings. There’s no place for the germs to go, so they socialize inside
the vents and luggage compartments. In the airplane bathroom itself,
a.k.a. Virus Central, it is impossible not to have every body part
brush against the walls.

The Journal’s phobia product round-up includes a $75 neck pillow “with
a built-in ionizer to shoo pollutants from your personal breathing
space,” an $85 pair of metal-free “travel shoes” which wearers might
not have to take off during the security check, a $10 anti-bacterial
seat wrap, and an $8 bottle of anti-flu nasal spray.

We’re just one more SARS epidemic or chicken flu away from the launch
of Paranoia Air, an airline in which the flight attendants wear white
biohazard suits and the passengers all wear surgical masks. At least
that scenario might spare you from an annoying conversation with a
chatty passenger sitting next to you.

Self-help guru Deepak Chopra, who travels frequently for his New Age
seminars, told the Journal that he recommends flying without any
anti-microbe protection. “By creating an artificial environment, we’re
not stimulating our immune system enough,” he said. “Germs are immune
stimulants. They challenge you to be prepared.”

Back on the ground, it’s tough to be kissy-kissy with these
“challenging” germs — especially after reading the latest handwashing
studies (which the soap industry churns out weekly under academic
cover). After paying spies to observe more than 6,000 people in
public restrooms, the American Society for Microbiology recently
reported that 25 percent of guys snub the sink altogether opposed to
only 10 percent of women.

Unfortunately, there is no way to segregate the clean people from the
dirty ones. Even hanging out with just women doesn’t eliminate the
risk (although it does cut it in half).

Supermarket shopping cart studies, usually publicized at sweeps time
by FOX News affiliates, always prove to be nauseating. One University
of Arizona study found that one in five carts in Tucson “tested
positive for bodily fluids, blood, mucus, saliva or urine.” The
University of Maryland had no trouble finding E. coli bacteria in the
festering juices of raw beef, chicken and pork clinging to these

The Wall Street Journal gives a thumbs down to most of the anti-germ
products it tested, but it does endorse using alcohol-based hand
sanitizers, such as Purell, even after washing your hands on a plane.
Sometimes, they found, even the water can’t be trusted. The
Environmental Protection Agency recently discovered “unacceptable”
levels of coliform bacteria coming out of airline sinks.

As long as we can’t see the germs, paranoia will continue to thrive —
and so will these products. Makes me wish I bought some stock in

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Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Family, Parenting, Urinal Yoga

Who’s Cooler: “Anne from Green Gables” or Laura Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie?”

Tourists of all ages, genders, races, creeds and political affiliations are clamoring to dress as "Anne of Green Gables" in the utopian land of Prince Edward Island

Tourists of all ages, genders, races, creeds and political affiliations are clamoring to dress as "Anne of Green Gables" in the utopian land of Prince Edward Island

Well, now you know my vote. Leave your vote below!

In case you are wondering what I am doing wearing braids and a green dress, explanations can be found below. Not that any explanations are necessary — both Canada and the USA, for the moment, still protect free expression.


Boston Herald: For $2, you can be “Anne of Green Gables”

Herald “Working Stiff” Blog: “Dress for Success: Why can’t Lexington and Concord be this photo-op friendly?

Tacky Tourist Photos: Third runner-up in the “Anne of Green Gables” lookalike contest


Back to Laura Ingalls… Her dad, Charles Ingalls, a.k.a. Michael Landon, could be one of the coolest TV characters of all time. He was gentlemanly and could kick your ass. He always did the right thing, that Charles.

If you click on the picture, you can see what the real Charles looked like (the beard styles of the time made everyone look like the Unabomber).

My fourth grade teacher gave us extra credit for watching that show because it allegedly taught us about the nuances of being a pioneer.


My goofy Anne photo is now being formally shared with the Japanese fan base. Here’s what makes it official:

Japan-Anne-of-Green-Gables copy

Click the picture for Yuka Kajihara’s view of who is the most “charming Anne” of all time.

UPDATE: Bonnet Heads Fight Back: Anne vs. Laura debate heats up the Prairie!

PLUS… Exclusive commentary from “Little House” actress Alison Arngrim, a.k.a. Nellie Oleson: “Actress urges peace between Bonnetheads and Gableheads.


Filed under Family, Fashion, tacky tourist photos

Wouldn’t it be great if kids could watch their grandparents’ life stories on TV?

With so many biographies available about empty celebrities, wouldn't it be great if kids could watch their grandparents' life stories on TV?

With so many biographies available about empty celebrities, wouldn't it be great if kids could watch their grandparents' life stories on TV?

I’m not going to lie — I enjoy meeting famous people just like the next guy. I’m amused by brushing elbows with celebrities, although I no longer will breathlessly ask for a picture or autograph if the situation is awkward or if I am in a professional setting.

But often, the more exposure I have to a celebrity, the less impressed I am.

The most gratifying moments of my journalism career have been capturing the untold stories of remarkable people who deserve a helluva lot more attention than Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton.

Back in the 1920s, pilot Anne Wood-Kelly was told that little girls didn’t learn how to fly airplanes. In the 1930s, she was told that teenage girls didn’t learn how to fly airplanes. In the 1940s, she left Maine to volunteer for the British Royal Air Force to ferry planes to fight the Nazis.

My grandfather, Abraham “Bob” Tubin, never flew any Spitfire planes. He drove a Boston Herald delivery truck and his life adventure was busting his butt to support his family.

I’m privileged to be involved with a new personal documentary film business called “Reel Profiles,” which seeks to preserve the stories of people like Anne Wood and Grandpa Bob forever. In a much more engaging, dynamic and professional way than the traditional scrapbook or photo slideshow — in a way that harvests archival research and incorporates American history and world events.

Reel Profile documentaries include personal life stories, military histories, family histories, business profiles and celebrations of religious and nonprofit organizations that make an amazing impact on people’s lives.

A personal documentary is the kind of investment that can’t be wiped out by a crappy economy. I believe genealogy buffs would love to capture their family history for future generations. And that many people would love to commission films to celebrate their personal heroes, hopefully for them to appreciate at a tribute dinner, birthday or anniversary celebration.

If you know of any such people, please send them my way!

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UNSUNG HERO: Grandpa Bob delivered wisdom, heart, the Herald

Bob Tubin

Bob Tubin

THE WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick
“Grandpa Bob delivered wisdom, heart, the Herald”

The Boston Herald — March 15, 2006
If you’re ever lucky enough to approach your 90th birthday, do you
think you’d fondly reminisce about the job you have now? Do you think
you’d even remember the names of your co-workers?

In his words, circulation driver Abraham “Bob” Tubin proudly
“schlepped” newspapers for the Boston Herald from 1949-1979. One shift
would change the Revere native’s life forever. On a rainy Saturday
night in 1954, his truck was slammed from behind by a drunk driver,
burying him in an avalanche of newspaper bundles.

This was a few years before Ralph Nader taught the world about auto
safety. No protective cages separated the drivers from their cargo.
The accident left Tubin with a lifetime of excruciating pain and
seemingly endless hip and hernia operations. Astoundingly, in
retirement, he’d often mention how much he loved his job – how he
would show up early and leave late just to hang out with the guys off
the clock.

Tubin was my Grandpa Bob. He died last Tuesday at age 88 after a long
bout with heart and respiratory problems.

Grandpa carried his Herald ID in his wallet for the rest of his life.
Sandwiched in between family pictures and his subway pass was also the
tattered business card of the late Joe McLaughlin, a star columnist
for the Herald Traveler in the 1960s and 1970s.

The popularity of McLaughlin’s “Tell it to Joe” column — which
resolved a wide range of readers’ problems — gave him celebrity
status in the city. The Herald plastered his face on the side of
delivery trucks and on billboards. Although it was extremely unusual
for loading dock “grunts” to socialize with the newsroom elite, my
grandfather and McLaughlin became close friends.

Their friendship stood the test of time. According to retired
circulation driver Tony Luongo, many of the Herald columnist’s buddies
disappeared once he lost his tremendous clout. “Everybody liked Joe
McLaughlin when he could do something for them,” Luongo says. “Bob was
one of the few guys who visited him during his darkest hours.”

Grandpa delivered toys to orphanages for the “Tell it to Joe”
Christmas drives. Thank you letters from the Jimmy Fund describe him
as the “spark plug” behind the Herald Traveler drivers’ annual
collections. He also generated additional buzz (and dinero) each year
by driving a donated taxi for a day and giving all his fares and tips
to charity.

He was a huge fan of “Take Your Child To Work Day” decades before it
became trendy. Son Bradley often joined him on his newspaper route,
usually punctuated by a triple-decker grilled cheese sandwich and a
mocha ice cream frappe. Years earlier, when he ran a Revere Beach
hamburger stand called “Sloppy Joe’s,” he proudly displayed his
daughters Iris and Barbara on the counter top. The girls thought they
were sitting on a throne.

Revere Beach was his second home. It is where he courted his future
wife Beatrice (“Grandma Bea”) when the shore was brimming with dance
halls and amusement park rides. It is where he later “borrowed” and
meticulously sifted sand for his grandchildren’s first sandbox. And,
it was fittingly the backdrop to his funeral procession route.

Next to inhaling the salty air, his favorite pastime was reading
newspapers. When I was a kid, at least two years of papers were
stacked in his front porch — a mountainous archive where I mined for
old Red Sox boxscores and Sunday funnies to press with Silly Putty. I
credit his newsprint addiction for fueling my desire to become a
writer – and also for my reluctance to throw anything away.

Ultimately, my grandfather’s legacy goes far beyond my ink-stained
fingers. When I think of him, I’m reminded that sometimes what we do
for a living is not our most important job.

Grandpa Bob was in the hospital recuperating from a hip operation when
my son (his third great-grandchild at the time) was born a few years
ago. He was beaming when he looked at the pictures.

“Darren,” he said, “This is the greatest thing you will ever do.”

Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the
Boston Herald. Comments are welcomed at heraldstiff (at)

Abraham "Bob" Tubin impresses his future wife Beatrice Steinberg with his washboard abs in 1940. Before beginning his career at the Boston Herald Traveler, Tubin ran the "Sloppy Joe's" hamburger stand on Revere Beach.

Abraham "Bob" Tubin impresses his future wife Beatrice Steinberg with his washboard abs in 1940. Before beginning his career at the Boston Herald Traveler, Tubin ran the "Sloppy Joe's" hamburger stand on Revere Beach.


Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Family, Favorite Columns

24-Hour Diary of a Pregnant Guy — (Postscript with competing bellies)


(Originally published in July 2007)

The Empathy Belly is still by far the most dominant pregnancy simulator on the market, but a dramatic recent price cut indicates that the Pregnancy Profile (the Pepsi or Avis to the Empathy Coke and Empathy Hertz) is making up ground.

I wore the Profile for an hour — I wasn’t going for another 24! –, more than ample time to understand how it feels in comparison to the Belly. Students in teen pregnancy prevention classes usually go no longer than 30 minutes.

Although the suit is eight pounds lighter, the Profile rib belt pulled around tighter, so I felt many of the same side effects such as increased heart rate and body temperature. Personally, I felt that the Velcro straps made the Empathy Belly seem more like “a part of me” than the plastic buckles and backpack straps did for the Profile.

The Profile’s buckles made me feel like I was putting on one of those Baby Bjorn infant carriers. Which isn’t a bad thing, just an observation.

If you are from an educational institution considering the purchase of a pregnancy simulator, check out both companies’ comparison charts for all the trash talk.

Why The Empathy Belly makes you feel more pregnant.
Why The Pregnancy Profile makes you feel more pregnant. (Page 23 of PDF catalog)

On another note, the Web is saturated with intriguing stories about how these suits are used in the most unexpected ways. And there is also an abundance of material speculating about the possibility of male pregnancy.

Some recommended reading:

1. MALE PREGNANCY HOAX? Check out installation artist Virgil Wong’s 1999 exhibit on the first male pregnancy. The imagery and scientific jargon convinced many people the event was real.

2. EMPATHY FOR A MONTHPublic relations guru Kevin Burke, who owns a marketing company tailored toward women, wore The Empathy Belly for a month (no more than 16 hours at a time) to celebrate Mother’s Day. Burke strapped on the suit at home and the office, but never in public because he did not want his efforts to be misconstrued as “trivializing motherhood.”

3. MALE PREGNANCY HYPNOSIS Entertainer Joshua Seth performs a popular hypnotism routine in which he makes guys think they are pregnant.

4. INSENSITIVE BELLIES? — The Chicago Tribune’s Julie Deardorff discovered that some women are turned off by guys who wear The Empathy Belly and talk about how sensitive they are. Hope she doesn’t mean me.

5. ENGINEERING EMPATHY — Learn more about the belly-wearing engineers at the Ford Motor Company.

6. THE BEVERAGE BELLY — Want the belly without the side effects of pregnancy and a buzz to boot? You might prefer The Beerbelly, a refillable bladder meant to be smuggled into ballgames.

7. PASS THE SALT WATER — Read what one British moron did to experience the sensation of morning sickness! Yum-yum!

8. THE BRITISH BUMP “The Bump” is a British-designed pregnancy simulator that differs from The Empathy Belly and Pregnancy Profile in two ways. Most notably, it allows users to add or subtract weight with removable four-pound bean bags. It also has silicone-filled breasts for a more realistic weight distribution and a better logo than either the Belly or the Profile.




Darren’s 24-Hour Empathy Belly Diary:
(Part 1 of 3)
(Part 2 of 3)
(Part 3 of 3)
(Postscript with Competing Bellies)

LABOR OF LOVE — My original Boston Herald feature on the Belly.

EMPATHY BUZZ – Inspirational responses to my Belly exercise.

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Filed under empathy belly, Family, Fashion, Health, male pregnancy, Parenting