United States Holocaust Museum

Let's ask a few journalism questions about that Pokemon Go guy in the Russian shrine

Let's ask a few journalism questions about that Pokemon Go guy in the Russian shrine

So, did you hear about the Russian blogger who paid a small legal price for playing Pokemon Go inside a highly symbolic Russian Orthodox sanctuary?

I sure did, and I'm not just talking about the coverage from BBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post. As you would imagine, Orthodox folks such as myself have been asked if we approved of this government action against an Internet-era provocateur.

Well, that is an interesting question. However, that isn't what I want to write about here. Much like the Pussy Riot case, I am interesting in a different pair of questions: What actually happened in that shrine? And could news consumers find out what happened, just by reading the news accounts?

So let's shift the focus for a second and consider a hypothetical case. Let's say that an alt-right Holocaust denier decides to enter a highly symbolic sanctuary -- perhaps Berlin's Ryke Street synagogue -- and walks around playing some kind of smartphone game in which he hunts demons, or monsters, or whatever. He then posts an anti-semitic video online. Ultimately, he ends up in trouble with law officials.

Now, there are several questions that I think would be crucial for journalists to ask in this case: (1) What sanctuary are we talking about? (2) Did this sanctuary invasion take place during a worship service? (2) Did the rabbi, or people working with him, request that the man cease and desist? In other words, was he warned that he was disturbing the peace?

It's one thing to walk around uninvited in a holy place doing nonsense. In terms of the law, it might be more offensive -- perhaps even a legal offense -- to do this during a prayer service. What if this alt-right wacko was asked to leave, to stop distracting people in the synagogue and refused? Several times?

Now, back to Russia. Let me stress, once again, that we are not debating the appropriateness of Russian law or actions in this case. We are asking if news consumers can figure out what actually happened in this event, simply by reading the news coverage.

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Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Readers may recall that, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, I put up a quick post lamenting that I wasn't seeing much mainstream-media coverage of this haunting event. I also noted that hoped we would see more coverage -- logically -- on the day after, with news stories focusing on the content of the anniversary events.

I hoped that would happen and that was, at quite a few publications, precisely what happened.

As you would expect, The Washington Post -- in the same city as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published a local-angle story, hooked on the events in the Hall of Remembrance.

The newspaper's foreign desk also contributed a stunning story -- "A Nightmare Revisited" -- reported from Auschwitz, where 300 survivors returned to what it called the "bloodiest site of the Holocaust." And there was a sidebar listening to the voices of Auschwitz survivors.

I recommend these stories highly. Yet, I do so even as I note that the news stories failed to dig into the impact of this singular event, this singular vision of evil, on the lives of post-Holocaust Jews as religious believers and on the Jewish faith in general.

The timeless theodicy question, of course: Where was God?

OK, I will ask: Where were the God issues in these otherwise fine news reports?

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