Ada Fisher review: Finding meaning in ‘The Red Tent’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2014

In a storyline that time and preachers seem to have forgotten comes forth a woman of strength and character by the name of Dinah (pronounced Deenah), the only daughter of Jacob and a rightful heir to share in the honor accorded the twelve tribes of Israel. Beautifully told with characters so strong the identity of the actors meddled into The Red Tent, where the secrets of womanhood are shared and traditions lovingly passed from mothers to daughters.

My father, Dr. Miles Mark Fisher, often spoke of the secret meetings of Africa developed around womanhood training and a similar corrollary for men in huts, sequestered places in the solemnity of the woods and other gatherings to keep traditions alive. These were captured in many of the slave songs of which he wrote and from information passed down through my grandfather, a slave, and his mother, whose Native American roots were also laid bare.  And so it goes from one generation to the next, being increasingly lost over time by generations who disregard the cautions and lessons to be learned from the teaschings of life in the Bible.

It is the story between the lines of Genesis 34 that Anita Diamaant’s book “The Red Tent” captures on why things with females were done as they were. Jacob’s only daughter Dinah leaps from the veils of the women of the tent revealing much still hidden involving her mothers, Leah — Jacob’s first wife — and her birth mother, Rachel, Jacob’s more beautiful wife who captured his heart and was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, as well as his dowry slave wives from Labum Zilpah and Bilhah.

A dozen sons but only one daughter. Though rivalry and jealousy plagued Jacob’s sons, his wives with no hint of jealousy born from a strong sense of duty, share with Dinah. This story, which only she is best positioned to convey from the love and treasures of the women who raised her and taught her midwifery, showed how this sisterhood illuminated them. Dinah would survive the death of her husband at the hands of her brothers with a challenge to male authority.  Not until much later would she appreciate their maltreatment of her brother Joseph.

In the Lifetime television two part miniseries, “The Red Tent,” as do present headlines often remind us of the plight of women including their loves and abuse.  Their refuge in life’s storms was in a tent where women could gather undisturbed during menses, birthing cycles and illness.  It was there that females openly shared stories of Jacob’s courtship with his four wives, were initiated into their tribal religious as well as sexual practices, learning of the tolerance required for ways they didn’t understand and might not agree with but needed to know lest they become hurt by the brutality of subjegation. Their allegiance to other women would give Dinah the strength as noted in Corinthians to bear all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things and endureth all things from the faith of their G-d.

Could the liberation of attitude, heart and exploration forced upon this woman of substance, as it did Mary Magdalene in a pervasive war on women, a lesser role for in the eyes of men who were history’s scribes may have felt the need to dampen her role in promoting the faith and challenge traditions which were less enlightened. Lessons learned in The Red Tent would well prepare Dinah to cope with the tumultous world of ancient womanhood? This would sustain her in developing a perspective regarding eye-opening cultures involving kings, shepherds, slaves, farmers and traveling caravans.   

Dinah’s tale begins with the story of her mothers: Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah, the four wives of Jacob. They loved Dinah and gave her the gifts that were to sustain her; but it was and is the sisterhood of The Red Tent, which can bind women through all generations if we would be kinder to ourselves.   

(Can be viewed on line and will likely run again on Lifetime.)

Dr. Ada Fisher lives in Salisbury.