Dr. Jeffrey Kranzler: Orthodox Jew, therapist, and comic book creator puts the “holy” in Batman. Well, not Batman exactly – his comic book hero is called The Crimson Protector. But it was holiness, in part, that led Kranzler to the field of mental health. Not only is nearly everyone in his family involved in this space professionally, Kranzler saw hints about mental healthiness in his Jewish education growing up. The verse in Tehillim (Psalms) which says, “God is a healer of the brokenhearted,” always inspired him.
While Kranzler initially dreamed of writing for Hollywood and had an internship at Warner Brothers, his passion for helping people via mental health eventually propelled him to become a social worker. After trying out his first psychology class as an undergrad at John Hopkins University he was hooked. After graduating, Kranzler went on to pursue his Masters and PhD at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
Kranzler works with children, adolescents, and adults in his Maryland-based practice, but synthesizing his mental health knowledge with his creative side allows him to reach kids who are struggling on a different level. “I saw the ability of fiction to…communicate messages so effectively.”
He believes there is a glaring difference between teaching coping skills through therapy sessions, which people can at times resist and transferring them with storytelling. This is the main motivator behind the creation of his comic book, The Crimson Protector. It is a work of fiction based on his studies and experiences. It’s meant to teach middle schoolers invaluable social skills and guide them through their preteen years organically.
Dr. Kranzler helps kids who struggle with abuse, mood swings, bullying, and social anxiety. Yet, he is a therapist who appreciates every age’s ability to flourish after failure, as he notes, “I actually loved working across the life span.” Kranzler debunks the infamous archetype we have come to know (mainly due to the movies) that a bully is someone who suffers from low self-esteem and exhibits the inability to self-express him/herself. In a nutshell, he clarifies, “the best bullies, the most effective bullies are the one who use their skills,” and do so in public to gain popularity and power for the wrong reason. This is true too of the best defender or “protector” of those who are bullied, but do so for the right reason. This is the idea behind his book’s protagonist, James.
There are no skills and no workshop exercises in the book. The ideas are “simply taught through the experience and the interactions of this main character.” It’s important to Kranzler that kids personally live through James’ losses and wins. Because if you “live the skills as they’re being performed,” you can then confidently overcome the bullies in real life whenever and wherever you encounter them. A part of the story is having James reach out to a mentor for help in gaining that confidence to stand up to the bullying he witnesses around school. He wants to learn how to approach the scene and protect the other kids. Dr. Kranzler is additionally “encouraging kids to not wait for adults to notice something is going wrong.”
There is a recurring Jewish value underlying the plot that is the pursuit of justice – “tzedek tzedek tirdof.” This is seen through James who is inspired by the history of the civil rights movement within his town, specifically The Freedom Writer Movement. “Justice for us is a part of our DNA,” Kranzler explains, and so it is ingrained in the character as well.
The book has received tremendous praise from teachers, parents, therapists, and middle school readers themselves. Kranzler credits this success to the novel’s engaging content and adventurous form. This book is like a friend that kids can have by their side and identify with. It further shows that a trip to the therapist doesn’t always solve everything you’d like it to, but rather gives room for other healing methods to work in powerful ways.
Kranzler strongly believes that we all have a responsibility to be healthy which includes caring for every part of one’s whole being, “We have to partner with God in all of the health activities that we are involved in.” Currently, Dr. Kranzler is reaching out to educators and administrators to have the book be incorporated into school curriculums.