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!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • 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.