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Creative Reportage at The Age

July 28, 2009 – 11:32 am12 Comments
Jew with beard = newsworthy?

Jew with beard = newsworthy?

By The Hasid

By now, you’ve probably heard that an American tourist died in Melbourne on July 23, after being clipped by a motorbike on Hotham Street. Sad news indeed. And, yes, sadly newsworthy. Though such stories are normally kept short, anonymous and buried (if you’ll excuse the expression) in the latter pages of the paper; betwixt a mud slide in Bolivia (feh!) and factory riots in a remote province of western China (yawn).

But page three of The Age? A 220 word column with a photograph of the deceased?

Well, yes. If you’re an ultra-Orthodox Jew with connections to the Adass community, that is.

It never ceases to amaze me. Mundane news becomes a lot… newsier, I suppose, if you’re a Jew with a beard.

To quote directly from the article (by Mex Cooper and Barney Zwartz), published on Friday July 24:

An American tourist who died after he was hit by a motorcycle at Ripponlea on Wednesday night was a leading member of a small Jewish sect.

Holocaust survivor Yitzchok Rotenberg, 71, struck his head on the road after being clipped by a motorbike as he crossed Hotham Street on his way to the Adass Israel Synagogue.

Cooper and Zwartz then go on to elucidate the Jewish burial process – how the deceased must be buried as soon as possible; but in Mr Rotenberg’s case the ritual would be delayed because his body was being repatriated to the United States, etc.

I suppose that’s nothing to get too het up about. It is just an article. And this is “the media”, of course. Maybe it was a slow week. I mean, Judy Moran’s 4WD shopping spree was the lead article on the front page that day.

But then it gets really good:

His son, Kalman Rotenberg, is a member of Melbourne’s Adass community, an ultra-Orthodox and reclusive group of about 150 families based in Elsternwick and Ripponlea.

Mr Rotenberg was himself not a member of the Adass community, but a prominent member of a similarly small, deeply conservative Jewish community in New Square, New York.

The Adass community hit the front pages last year when the principal of the Adass Israel Girls School in Elsternwick, Malka Leifer, a mother of eight, fled to Israel ahead of allegations of molesting teenage girls at the school.

Say it with me, dear readers:

WHAT. THE. HELL.

What do the alleged crimes (terrible as they are – but that’s another post entirely) of Malka Leifer have to do with the death of Yitzchok Rotenberg? Whoever can answer that question to my satisfaction wins my subscription to The Age for 2010! Good luck. May the force be with you.

Alright, alright. To be serious, for a moment. What happened here? Was there some sort of breakdown in the editorial process? Did no sub-editor (if they still have ‘em) realise that the two events were entirely unconnected? Perhaps there was simply a need to make up column inches and the Adass connection seemed intriguing, in a A Stranger Among Us sort of way. To be honest, I’m surprised by this blunder. Cooper’s name is new to me, but Zwartz (who has been religion editor at The Age for many years) has a reputation for excellent journalism. Though I suppose therein lies the problem – getting a religion reporter to cover the local traffic beat is perhaps not the most logical assignment.

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