Laurel Snyder is the Jewish Student Life Coordinator at the University of Iowa and, as of late, she also has worked overtime as the official spokesperson for all of Jewry -- or at least Jews that live in certain zip codes near certain newspapers. She does not seem to have enjoyed this ink-stained role, according to her essay at The Revealer.
For those of us who walk the God beat, this is a fine chance to hear what life is like on the other end of the telephone line.
The cause of all this is, of course, "The Passion of the Christ." Thus, journalists of every shape and size -- from small dailies to flacky religious publications -- keep calling, asking her to explain to them what it all means.
They want me to say I'm scared to death, or they want me to say I'm not frightened at all. They want me to resurrect the Holocaust, proclaim that I don't think violence will erupt, but that my grandparents didn't think it would erupt in Berlin.
It doesn't really matter what I say, so long as it fits into the column, and so long as it's a defined position, symbolic of all the emotions of my chosen people, my Jewish race. So long as I'm not confused, conflicted, bewildered by complex factors.
There is such a temptation to do this, of course. Bishop Jack Spong becomes the official liberal, dancing happy tangos with Bishop Gene Robinson. The Rev. Jerry Falwell is the only fundamentalist in the world. Ask MSNBC. Dr. Martin Marty is the world's most famous theologian, only he happens to be a church historian. And so forth and so on.
There is a time and a place for rounding up the usual suspects. But there are also stories that are so complex and sprawling that they demand multiple viewpoints. We need labels that are more detailed.
There are Orthodox Jews who actually think Mel Gibson has made a work of art. There are Orthodox Jews who hate it. There are liberal Jews who hate it, but think he has a right to speak his mind. There appear to be many who think Gibson should be locked away somewhere. There are ultra-conservative Protestants who think -- quietly -- that this movie is a load of Catholic heresy. There are many who think it is manna from heaven. There are Catholics who love the film and others who loathe it. There are conservative Catholics who appreciate Gibson's motives for making the Passion, but do not plan to see it.
Journalism is like that, sometime. Frankly, the religion beat is like that most of the time. There are other voices that deserve to be heard and newspapers need to find reporters who care enough to find them.
Snyder feels sympathy for the reporters. She spills out her thoughts, and they are complex and fierce thoughts. The reporters are confused. They keep saying: `But your community overall -- what is your community feeling?` Her response is classic:
And I'm at a total loss. It's like they imagine I've just gotten off a conference call with Ariel Sharon, my bubbe's ghost, the Elders of Zion, Moses, Chabad, The Beastie Boys and the ADL.
Dear Ms. Snyder: Please, give these reporters lots of telephone numbers and dare them to use them.