Thursday, October 20, 2016

Observant Jew Writes About the Berenstain Bears

As an observant Jew, I may not have particularly wanted to read to my son about attending Sunday school, but there was hardly anything to take offense at in the new Berenstain Bears adventures. Still, to be perfectly honest, its Bible-quoting characters unwound some of the lingering sentiment I’d felt for the Berenstain Bears, who appeared to me to have abandoned their universalist appeal. Their stories were no longer about milestones and stumbling blocks in every young child’s life but took a more narrowly targeted approach that left some out even as it pulled others in.

Even knowing Mike Berenstain’s reasoning — his faith, finding a bigger audience — it was hard not to see the Bears’ conversion as another means of escape from the changing world they had always sought to escape. In the 1960s, Bear Country was a refuge from tumult; basically, it was the suburbs. Now religion was the refuge, a cloak for the bears’ deliberate and unfashionable fustiness. But was there any need for such a justification?

Ultimately, bedtime stories serve twin purposes. To children, they’re entertainment; to parents, a soporific. “Show Some Respect” stayed in regular bedtime-reading rotation in our household, my discomfort with its Christian themes outweighed by its uncanny ability to speed the progress from bath to bed to blissful (parental) immersion in “Catastrophe.” My son, though, could not have cared less that the Berenstain Bears were quoting from the Bible, any more than he would have noticed references to the Quran or “The Communist Manifesto.” He was just glad that the Bears had found a place to have their picnic — and that they always would.

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