The missing ‘places of Jewish worship’

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30: Airline workers load cargo into an All Nippon Airways passenger plane at Los Angeles International Airport on October 30, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The United States remains vigilant in the wake of an exposed terror plot. Packages containing explosives were sent from Yemen and addressed to synagogues in Chicago but were intercepted yesterday before they could reach their destinations. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A lot more details have come to light as the international probe into a terror threat emanating from Yemen has widened. But some details should have been much clearer from the start.

One of the early oddities with this story was that the Chicago synagogues to which the bombs were addressed were repeatedly referred to as “places of Jewish Worship.”

I know that President Obama, in his press conference, called them places of Jewish worship. But reporters often — maybe not often enough — translate bureaucratese into more precise words that can be more easily understood by readers.

These weren’t Jewish community centers, so it’s pretty safe to just identify them as synagogues. Thats the Jewish version of a church.

Even odder, though, was the initial story from The New York Times. It was an earlier version of this story that was titled “Terror Alert Touched Off by Suspicious Air Shipments.” The earlier version, which you can still find on online message boards, went straight from talking about the “widening investigation into suspicious packages” to this:

Federal officials warned synagogues in the Chicago metropolitan area to be on alert, said Linda Haase, associate vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

“We were notified about this earlier this morning,” Ms. Haase said in an interview. “We are taking appropriate precautions and we’re advising local synagogues to do the same.”

By the afternoon, Jewish institutions throughout the nation were being told by the Anti-Defamation League to step up their security. “Law enforcement asked us to reach out to the Jewish community to be on alert, to be vigilant, in particular for packages,” Steven Sheinberg, the director of community security at the League said in an interview. “We have heard of no specific threat, but these things are unfolding and progressing.”

Knowing what we know now, it’s no surprise at all that this NYT story added such context. But in this version of the story it was quite the non sequitor. Until the above paragraphs, there had been no mention of Jews, synagogues or places of Jewish worship.

In other words, this story said Jews were on alert but didn’t say why. And why, after all, is often the most important question a story should answer.

Have we really gotten to the point that any terror threat from the Middle East is presumed to target American Jews? Or was this just an editing flub in the rush to get this story online as quickly as possible?

It may have been the latter. When I sent this story to the GetReligion team, Bobby — Go Rangers! — replied with an NYT news alert that mentioned “places of Jewish worship.”

The funny thing was that the link included in the news alert redirected to the NYTimes.com home page. Where the earlier version of the story I just discussed was prominently featured.

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  • Dave

    In response to a question, Janet Napolitano said something to the effect that we are seeing how the system works. I wish the press would explore the possibility that this what our enemies were after: Mail some bombs and see how the system works — by watching the media — so they can mail them better next time. What happens during the news cycle isn’t all that’s news.

  • Jerry

    When I sent this story to the GetReligion team

    Sometimes those offhand parenthetical comments peak my curiosity. I’ve sometimes wondered the “how” question: how the GR bloggers work together and what process exists before a post sees the light of day.

    So I’m wondering if this review? heads-up? fyi? is part of the regular process?

    I have an ulterior motive for asking the question. Some topics seem to become obsessions with post after post making what seem sometimes like similar points about the coverage.

    Of course, part of that is a matter of interest. People’s world-views lead them to become interested in certain topics and therefore notice issues that are reflective of their perspectives. But sometimes I long for an editorial corrective on what appears to me to be excessive attention to one particular story.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    It was just a heads-up that I would be commenting on the NYT story this weekend.

  • Julia

    “places of Jewish worship.”

    When did the media and then others decide that synagogues, mosques and churches are best described as “places of worship”? Is that how each denomination, church, mosque or type of Jewish community would describe what goes on in their respective religious buildings?

    It was sort of snuck in there sometime in the last 20 years or so.

    Is it when the media recognized it shouldn’t just talk about churches? Is it part of the civic religion lingo that wanted to avoid offending anybody and find some common description indicating we’re all really alike at heart?

    It seems a strange circumlocution.

  • Jon in the Nati

    Given that not all Jews use the same word to refer to their, well, ‘places of worship’, what exactly is so horrible about using a generic, albeit clunky, term to describe them in a context not referring to any particular Jewish movement?

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    It’s not inaccurate, just awkward. While Orthodox usually call it shul, Reform call it Temple and, of course, Conservative hedge, I think synagogue is generally accepted.

  • Jon in the Nati

    Worth noting also is that, in Israel, the phrase byet knesset or “house of assembly” is used in colloquial speech. That seems pretty close to the “places of worship” people are getting miffed about.

    Just sayin’.


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