In Catbird: The Ballad of Barbi Prim, the world meets an insightful, opinionated 8‑year-old who’s already taken a few steps toward becoming a pioneer — but also a shadow of her quirky self. Although she’s corroded — sometimes literally — by a toxic, but familiar social atmosphere, her love of singing propels her to become the first ordained woman cantor in 3,000 years of Jewish history. A family crisis exposes old and enduring wounds, but she begins to rescue herself — by diligently going to therapy — and embarks on an imperfect but perpetual metamorphosis becoming the well-coiffed heroine of her own story. Barbara Ostfeld shows us that we are all brave pioneers — at becoming our true selves.
Catbird: The Ballad of Barbi Prim
January 1, 2013
Courtesy of Barbara Ostfeld
- What Jewish rituals and observances capture Barbara’s imagination in childhood?
- How did Barbara develop a feeling for the sacred as a child?
- In what ways are Barbara’s parents similar to or different from typical first-generation American Jews of their generation?
- Why do you think Barbara learns to associate unattractiveness with Jewishness?
- What are the sources of her defiance? Her compassion?
- What does Catbird tell us about growing up Jewish in the 1950s and ’60s?
- What has changed for Jewish kids, especially girls, since then? What hasn’t?
- Barbara feels awkward during a number of her first experiences at HUC. Have you ever found yourself feeling awkward in group settings because of your perceived differences?
- How do the following themes play out in Catbird? • Repentance • Hair (Is this a Jewish theme?) • Modesty/make-up/clothes/costumes
- What role does therapy play in Barbara’s growth? How do you think her life would be different without the good mental health care she received and still pursues?
- Would Barbara have become the first ordained woman cantor if she hadn’t been raised in the Reform movement?
- How do you relate to your cantor? Your rabbi? Do you hold them to different standards with regard to religious observance? Parenting? Good works? Appearance?
- What changes in synagogue life and in prayer did Barbara witness during her career? What changes have you observed?
- Is there a specifically Jewish message in Catbird?
- Has Catbird influenced your Jewish identity?
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