One of the cover stories in the Exponent this month dealt with how Chanukah merchandising has exploded and how all of the December holidays – and not just Christmas – have been recognized, especially by those businesses that create holiday cards, food baskets, seasonal decorations and wrapping materials. It was just a matter of time before magazines caught up with the trend, and the December/January issue of Child proves the point.
In one of the articles plugged on the cover, celebrity singer and mother of four Amy Grant talks about how "she raises her family with faith," and lots of it. But when you turn to the story, you find that though Grant comes first, two other moms – one Jewish, the other Muslim – discuss how they, too, try to imbue their children with a sense of faith.
It may be heartening, in principle, to have these three religions represented, but the results are far from cheering. All three women sound drifty, self-centered and annoyingly touchy-feely; the effect is downright creepy.
I only have enough space to deal with the Jewish subject, so you'll have to take my word for it about the others.
Marjorie Ingall is a 38-year-old mother of two who writes the "East Village Mamele" column for the Forward. Educated at a private Orthodox day school, she acquired far more knowledge than the average Jew, yet was not permitted to pray or read Torah in mixed company. At home, her mother, a feminist, tried to counter those conflicting messages.
Ingall said she rebelled in her 20s against Judaism, but that falling in love with a Jewish man and having children changed everything.
"When you have kids, you're drawn to creating rituals and traditions. We turn to what gave us a feeling of warmth when we grew up. I associate my childhood with my mother making challah bread and singing Hebrew songs. When Josie was about 10 months old, we began going to kids' services at temple and observing the Sabbath at home. I even baked challah a few times … using my mom's recipe. It's hard to articulate why it's so thrilling to see your child singing the Jewish songs you sang and doing fabulous Jewy things you did as a child. You feel a connection to history in a world where a lot of us feel adrift."
Forget the fact that she's obviously given up making challah, which can indeed be time-consuming, and the distressing reference to "Jewy things." After all these sweet reminiscences, Ingall admits she's still ambivalent about religion: "I don't want to give my children the same kind of upbringing I had. I love the salad bowl that is New York. I don't want them to just hang around with other tomatoes. For me, it's a struggle that isn't over."
What's disturbing is not that this comment comes out of left field. It's that I wonder what the editors imagined these three brief portraits would say about spirituality in America. The interviews were really little more than ego rants with a nod now and then to the kids. But remember, folks, the magazine's called Child, not Wacky Parents.