Farewell, Mrs. Cleaver. Goodbye, Mr. C.

The WORD – 10/21/10. I know that I am not the only one to have noticed the coincidence of Barbara Billingsley (a/k/a June Cleaver) and Tom Bosley (a/k/a Howard Cunningham) passing away within a few days of one another.  Thanks to re-runs, they each came to symbolize an idealized version of an American parent for multiple generations.

Mrs. Cleaver was the kind of mom every kid wanted to come home from school and see.  Mr. C was the kind of dad that would understand our mistakes and gently lead us in the right direction.  While intellectually, we know that they were only actors playing roles, emotionally they meant much more than that to many of us who grew up watching them.

As Jodi and I were discussing the passing of these two icons, our daughter Gabi finally realized that we must have watched more television growing up than she is allowed to watch today.  And once she came to this conclusion, she wanted to know why this was the case.

Part of it is just the reality of kids’ lives today compared to the way things were when I was growing up.  Today, our kids have more programs and activities after school not to mention more homework than was the norm decades ago.  There is simply less time available.

More than that, though, Jodi and I made a conscious decision to turn the TV on as little as possible.  I know, for example, that if I could only purge my brain of all the lyrics of TV theme shows that I could replace those words with the entire Bible or Talmud instead.  So, we hope that our kids’ brains will fill up with more useful information than mine.

But even those two arguments don’t give the full answer.  The truth is that the kind of programming and the quality of programming available to our kids today just seems so inferior to what I remember watching.  I shudder when I see some of the reality TV shows and other programs that qualify as entertainment today. Instead of the Cleavers and the Cunninghams, we have the Jersey Shore cast and the 21st season of Survivor.  As much as I enjoy watching TV sometimes, I have no problem keeping my children far away from these kinds of programs.

This week’s Torah portion brings us an example of a mother – and to some extent a father – trying to protect their child from a danger.  The parents in question were Avraham and Sarah.  The child was Yitzchak.  In Genesis 21:9-10, we read “Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Avraham playing – “metzachek.”  She said to Avraham, ‘Cast out that slave woman and her son for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Yitzchak.’”  What did Yishmael do that caused Sarah to respond in this manner?

An ancient Midrash from Breisheet Rabbah suggests that Yishmael’s crime was “cruelty, lewdness, perhaps even sexual molestation.”  Rashi, the classic medieval commentator wrote that this was “the language of murder.”  In other words, Avraham and Sarah were trying to protect their son from inappropriate influences and from violence.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We’ll miss you, Mrs. Cleaver and Mr. Cunningham.




About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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