Motherlode of Nasty

I read the New York Times column “Motherlode: Adventures in Parenting.” Like some other NYT columns–“Modern Love” comes to mind–the contributors are varied, but the articles are usually food for thought. The February 21 column certainly was thought-provoking, and not just because of the content. The author talked about the Jewish custom (or superstition, if you prefer) of not having a baby shower, or buying baby things, before the child is actually born. 

The article resonated, and not just with me: comments from Muslims, from Italians, from Germans, from irish moms all indicate that waiting, and not spitting in the eye of fate is not just a Jewish custom. No surprise there! That time at the beginning of life is so fragile and fraught, even now with all our medical technology. And just the thought of taking down a crib unused causes my chest to tighten with grief. Forget superstition. Waiting is an emotional hedge.

The readers’ comments were making me feel all universalist-happy: so many from so many different backgrounds agreed that their culture, too, encouraged people to wait that I couldn’t help thinking: see, women everywhere share this feeling, this worry, this little superstition and its very practical emotional basis. Their responses meant that the column had struck a chord for many, of whatever ethnic or faith background.

And then it happened. A bucket of ice water chilled my warm and fuzzies. Sharon in Miami commented: 

Not related to this post in particular, but has the NYTimes done research on the readers of this particular column and determined that the majority of them are Jewish?
Jews are less than 3% of the population of the US (per a Google search) and yet, the topics presented in this blog seem to always have some sort of direct or indirect Jewish tie-in… this one, Zachary’s shiva, the acne lady mentioning that her secular school friends left her alone but the Hewbrew[sic] school kids were merciless, the over-priviledged [sic] pre-school couple was Jewish.
Just curious. Seems strange to me.

My stomach did a little flop. Sharon in Miami was irritated, and her pseudo-casual “just curious” aside, irritated enough to do a Google search to ascertain just how many Jews there are in the US. Then she took the time to let the NYT know that they were being a little too, you know, Jewy. All that over-priviledged [sic] Hewbrew [sic] school stuff. Because, you know, it just seemed strange to her.

So we won’t be singing kumbaya with Sharon in Miami, huh? 

Sharon in Miami opened, if not a floodgate, a little sluice of like-minded readers. Howard in New York quotes at length from a number of NYT articles that have Jewish authors and themes and he adds:

I’m glad Sharon made this point because I was wondering if it was just I who had noticed that as well.
There are a number of underlying currents which run across the Times’ [sic] website, and it seems to me as if Judeo-Centric [sic] articles are one of them.

My stomach does another flop, and not just because of the iffy punctuation and spelling. Howard in New York took quite a bit of time finding and quoting from those articles; I wrote grad school papers with fewer citations. He cares about this, obviously. What was it, 15 or 20 minutes out of his day to let people know how all those “Judeo-Centric” articles are a bit much? To let them know about the “underlying currents” of Jewishness that permeate the media?

Then Rose in Seattle chimes in:

@Sharon: Good point. Also, Amy Klein, the Fertility Diary author, wrote extensively about being Jewish and fertility. As in, she had to wait to reproduce until she found a Jewish man, discussions with her rabbi about fertility, her travels to Israel for fertility treatments, etc.
And then there was the angst of the Jewish mom (married to a gentile) who didn’t want her husband’s Christmas tree tradition in her home and didn’t want her in-laws to give gifts in Christmas wrapping paper.
To be fair, Jews *are* a greater percentage of the New York City population, but the NYT (especially online) is a national publication.

Amy Klein’s “Fertility Diary” was a long series; Rose in Seattle must have been reading it all along to get all those details–and they must have impressed her, given her memory of them. But rather than sympathizing with a woman’s struggle to get pregnant, what does she remember? That Amy Klein had to wait for a Jewish husband “to reproduce.” Better than “to breed,” I guess, but only by a slim margin. And that “waiting for a Jewish husband” bit sounds so… cliquish.

What does Rose in Seattle remember from the other article? No sympathy for someone trying to keep her people’s traditions going–no indeed. Derision because a Jewish mother rejected that object of holy veneration, the Christmas tree.

At least she’s being “fair” about the number of Jews in New York.

A few more commenters remark on how they noticed all that Jewishness, too, like DH in Boston, who “really do[es] wonder” why Jews get more of a “voice” in this column than, say, Asians. More pseudo-casual nastiness.

I imagine them wrinkling their noses a bit. My stomach stops flopping, and instead, I feel a little burn. The little burn flares up when I read what Lisa in the Midwest has to say:

@Sharon, thank you. Someone finally said it. That thought came to mind as soon as I saw this post… interesting post, but really? Another one by a mother who happens to be Jewish? Again, I get the demographics of NYC and the readership, but still…

Finally, someone who has the guts to be point out how Jewy the New York Times is! Lisa gives examples of other people she’d like to read about: Hispanics, perhaps, or Asians, Muslims or Catholics. How about an “…African-American mom who’s not a single mom raising a child on minimum wage?” She closes by saying she’s really glad someone brought this up. And now I’m in full burn: here’s someone who is apparently pleading for more diversity in the authorship of this column … by pigeonholing people by their race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic group. “Hey, could you put a few Hispanics or Asians on display for me? I’m getting tired of all these Jews.”

p scott [sic] in the Catskills chimes in:

I agree with Sharon. It also seems that the majority of reporters at the Times are Jewish.

The alarm bells go off in a big way. We have moved from a not-so-casual “why are there so many Jewish-related posts” to Jewish “underlying currents” at the New York Times all the way to a “majority of reporters” are Jewish in a matter of a dozen or so comments. With people regretfully agreeing that indeed, too many Jews are writing for this NYT mom blog, and apparently elsewhere in the paper. No one actually said that Jews control the media, but the comments come perilously close to that.

There was push back, I’m happy to say, both from other readers and ultimately, from the K.J. Dell’Antonia of the NYT:

Really, it’s just a coincidence that so many guest pieces with links to Judaism ran close together this week. It’s far more about who submits what and what fits with the hope of crossing age ranges and topics than anything else.

Thank heavens the editor’s name is Dell’Antonia and not Rabinowitz! Sharon et al would have gone stratospheric at that! I wonder if they Googled her to make sure her husband wasn’t Jewish. 

Dell’Antonia’s explanation is, of course, simple and logical.  She chooses from among those who step up to the plate. But people like Sharon, Rose, et al might be unconvinced, what with the “underlying currents” and “majority of reporters” and that New York demographic and all. I’m glad of the explanation, whether it convinces anyone or not. But I also wonder if the comments of Sharon et al will have a chilling effect on next week’s choice. Will KJ Dell’Antonia decide that some readers are irritated by so many Jewish guest columnists?

The comments never quite crossed the line. But I heard the dog whistles, and I saw with despair that their comments generated sometimes as many as 16 “thumbs up” from apparently silent readers.

Columns about holidays, fertility, pregnancy fears and customs can be so easily universalized by most of us, with the ethnic or religious background of the writer a frame for the common human struggle. But not for Sharon and her supporters. All they could see were too many Jews. 

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