The Arty Semite

Writing on Faith

By Menachem Wecker

  • Print
  • Share Share

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Helen Black

During the Q&A period of a December 1 event at the National Press Club titled “Why journalists must understand religion,” I asked Sally Quinn, founder and moderator of the Washington Post’s On Faith, if it was an advantage for reporters to approach the religion beat with insider knowledge of the faiths they are covering.

After all, I’ve found that some of my most creative stories have stemmed from a nuanced understanding of rabbinic and biblical Judaism, whether it was noticing Hebrew typos in William Blake’s paintings, mistranslations in the promotional materials of Hebrew inscriptions on rings in a gift shop at a mega-church or examining seemingly incongruous visual elements (like rabbit hunts or twisted pillars) in Jewish illuminated manuscripts and synagogues.

On the other hand, I’ve written for Catholic, Arab American and Mormon publications, and invariably, I learn the most from writing for those audiences, because I’m forced to do more research and to double- and triple-check my work.

Ms. Quinn responded that experience clearly helps a reporter understand the story, but it is not a prerequisite to good reporting.

I was replaying the Press Club event in my head when my editor at the Houston Chronicle asked me to write a news story for the paper on Christmas. It sounds like the beginning of an off-color joke: a kid named Menachem starts writing a story on Christmas art…

I have to say, though, that in the process of researching the story — which ran December 23 as “Fine Art displays haven’t forsaken the Nativity” — I definitely found myself enjoying the process all the more so because I knew I was treading holy water.

Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, an adjunct professor of religious art and cultural history at Georgetown University, sent me a handful of articles and chapters she’d written on the subject, and I happily and hungrily devoured them word for word — several times each.

I also got a kick out of emailing back and forth with art blogger Tyler Green, who had created an online Adventist and Hanukkah calendar on the micro-blogging platform Tumblr.

Some might say that chutzpah draws me to non-Jewish stories, but I prefer to see it as an expression of a different Jewish value: sakranut, or curiosity — the same sentiment that motivated the famous monkey Curious George, who according to the latest wisdom, might even have been Jewish himself.

What would Curious George have had to say about Christmas art? Probably not a whole lot, but I can just see him getting caught up in some mischief as he tried to track Santa (b. 1881) down to personally deliver his wish list — sure to be a whole lot of bananas.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Washington Post, Tyler Green, Sally Quinn, On Faith, National Press Club, Menachem Wecker, Houstin Chronicle, Georgetown University, From Under the Fig Tree, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Curious George, Christmas, William Blake

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.