By Rebecca Borison
For the past couple of months I’ve been mastering the skill of finding Jewish-related news. I follow the Jewish blogs and sites—Jewcy, Jewlicious, JTA—and the Israeli newspapers—JPost, Arutz Sheva, Haaretz. But my favorite articles are
those found in non-Jewish sources. I love going to the New York Times homepage to see an article about making kosher cocktails. Or the article about playing gaga at Jewish Summer Camps. Or the one about how Haredim cope with the summer heat.
You always hear questions like, “If there are so few Jews in the world relative to other religions, why do we keep winning Nobel prizes?” As of 2011, Jews make up around 0.2 percent of the world’s population, and yet 22 percent of Nobel recipients between 1901 and 2011 were Jewish. Maybe my fellow intern Lily Shoulberg can help us out with that one. But what I’d like to know is if there are so few Jews in the world, why do we keep popping up in the news?
Granted, major newspapers aren’t going to be able to choose whether or not to write about the conflict in the Middle East and Israel’s relationship with Iran, but I’m talking about the more quirky articles. Like Mark Oppenheimer’s column on a kosher Starbucks website.
In Oppenheimer’s column, he profiles Uri Ort, a Jewish New Yorker who started a website that tracks the kashrut status of Starbucks products by labeling the various drinks and snacks with a green light for “recommended” and a red light for “not recommended.”
When I asked Oppenheimer how he came up with the topic, he replied, “I was in a Starbucks, and I saw an Orthodox fellow, and I had noticed this same man at a different coffee shop in New Haven, and I got curious about it.” He tweeted about it, asking if Starbucks was kosher, and someone responded with the Chicago Rabbinical Council official document on Starbucks’s kashrut. After searching some more on Google, Oppenheimer stumbled upon Ort’s website.
But Oppenheimer doesn’t think that he writes about Judaism more than other religions. “I never do columns thinking am I going to satisfy a religious constituent; I just want to write a good story.”
He does admit that perhaps Jews are over-represented in the media, but, he says, “Jews also do a lot of interesting things and have interesting arguments. There’s a lot more interesting controversy within American Judaism than within say the Methodist Church in America.” And Oppenheimer explains this phenomenon with the fact that Judaism is decentralized. “If you want to know what the Lutheran church believes, they have a general assembly that passes resolutions about what Lutherans believe. With Jews, every rabbi can teach something different which gives rise to controversy and argument.”
So what it all comes down to is the fact that Jews don’t agree on much of anything. Ever since the Jews fought the Seleucid Greeks in the second century B.C.E., the Jewish People was divided into different sects or movements. At first we had the Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees. Then came the Karaites. About a thousand years later, Judaism gave rise to the first modern movements—the Chasidim and the Mitnagdim. Today, the number of Jewish sects is endless: Ultra-orthodox, modern Orthodox, Conservadox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanist, Renewal, and the list goes on and on.
Even though Jews make up only a small percentage of the world’s population, the Jewish gamut is so incredibly wide and diverse that it automatically gives rise to newsworthy stories. As Oppenheimer puts it, “You could write an interesting column about American Judaism every week.”