Religion writer and reporter Mark Oppenheimer mentioned GetReligion on his worthwhile blog. He highlighted our critiques of two recent pieces -- the Arizona gay Mormon suicide story and the Amish forgiveness story. However, he also noticed we don't take on too many stories that are overly solicitous of religious figures, local articles that fail to question outlandish claims of clergy and what not. That seems fair. It's not that we don't see these stories crop up time to time, they just never -- to me -- seem worth wasting too many pixels on.
Frankly, I think it's true that I prefer to write about bad local stories that are negative as compared to bad local stories that are puff pieces (Also true that I love to take on puff pieces about national figures). Perhaps this is something I need to work on.
Anyway, that critique was rolling around in my head as I read this NPR story about "Tracing Hanukkah's U.S. Roots ... To Cincinnati?"
Now maybe it's that we haven't seen too many stories about Hanukkah this year, but I enjoyed the way this story took a very narrow approach to the holiday -- looking at how this minor festival became a bigger deal in the United States. It's nice to see the American version of this tradition revisited and explained:
There is nearly no record of people celebrating Hanukkah just a couple of centuries ago. But it began to be an important Jewish holiday in the second half of the 19th century when two rabbis in Cincinnati noticed their Jewish children didn't have much connection to the synagogue.
The rabbis developed a new celebration for children during Hanukkah that was held in the synagogue and included giving presents. National newspapers publicized the new celebration, and it was soon being celebrated all around the country.
Hanukkah was being reinvented at a time when the American culture had a booming holiday in Christmas. The Jewish community began to reshape Hanukkah as something their children and families could do when American families were doing the same thing around Christmas.
[Dianne Ashton, professor of American Studies at Rowan University in New Jersey,] says it was a way for the Jewish community to be a part of something that was happening in America.
"They didn't see Christmas as something they could do easily because it's Christian, but they did want to do something like that because it was American," Ashton says.
It's a very brief story, has only one source, and doesn't get too much into details. But as part of larger coverage of Jewish festivals and holidays, that's fine. It would be nice to see even the briefest of explanation about Hanukkah, what it celebrates and its significance, though. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Greco-Syrians in 165 B.C.E. It has lessons about syncretism and orthodoxy, among other things.
As this festival gets underway, let us know if you see any particularly good or bad coverage.