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!
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • 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.