Emma Green's 'The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead' among the best religion stories of 2018

In my last post, I praised the crucial work of local newspaper reporters in covering major tragedies such as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

But the national press has an important role to play, too, as The Atlantic’s award-winning religion writer, Emma Green, has demonstrated in an exceptional fashion this week.

Green noted on Twitter that she spent three hours Sunday night in the Pittsburgh morgue. The result: a piece titled “The Jews of Pittsburgh Bury Their Dead.”

It’s remarkable in a number of ways: The strength of the idea and the implementation of it. The quality of the writing and the specific details contained therein. The depth of the religious knowledge and the ability to convey it in understandable prose.

Green’s compelling opening paragraphs set the scene:

Under other circumstances, Daniel Leger might be among those making sure the 11 Jews who were murdered in Pittsburgh are cared for in death. He is the leader of Pittsburgh’s liberal chevre kadisha—the committee responsible for tending to and preparing bodies before burial. Instead, he is in the hospital. He is one of the two congregants and four police officers who were injured in this week’s horrific attack.

The Pittsburgh morgue sits in a squat cement building on a street with little light, sandwiched between a bar and a highway. The door was locked and the lobby quiet on Sunday evening; few people were out in the chilly, intermittent rain. A sign on the door instructed visitors to use a nearby phone to reach the security desk. Throughout the night, someone new would be arriving each hour. They were the shomrim, or guards.

Jewish tradition teaches that the dead cannot be left alone. Some call it a sign of respect for people in death, as in life. Others say that the soul, or nefesh, is connected to the body until it is buried, or even for days afterward, and people must be present as it completes its transition into the next world.

Various Twitter users praised the story, and rightly so:

Other must-read stories from Green this week include a nuanced piece asking “How Will Pittsburgh’s Jews Translate Tragedy Into Action?” and moving spot news coverage of the funeral of two brothers who died.

This is, of course, not the first time we’ve praised Green at GetReligion. Last year, I found myself at a loss for an adequate superlative to characterize her deep dive on Islamic radicalization.

And Green earned first place for religion analysis in the Religion News Association’s 2018 contest. Her winning portfolio included these three pieces:

“Bernie Sanders's Religious Test for Christians in Public Office”

“Franklin Graham Is the Evangelical Id”

“The Death of Community and the Rise of Trump”

But Green’s story on the Jews of Pittsburgh burying their dead may be her best yet.

It’s certainly among the top religion stories that I’ve read in 2018.

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