Jesus: A Mensch and an Inspiration

By Neal Comment

As if I didn’t feel guilty enough about flying out to Los Angeles and missing the tail end of PEN World Voices, Nextbook has scheduled an afternoon-long cultural summit at the Center for Jewish History (just off Union Square) to answer the question, “What’s He Doing Here?” Which is to say, they’ve lined up a couple dozen folks to talk about Jesus in Jewish culture. Each of the eight panels has an $8 ticket charge, or you can get an all-day pass for $20.

“We had been talking about doing events in New York for some time,” explained Nextbook program director Matthew Brogan. One big event was determined to be more appealing that a string of events spread out over months, but they didn’t want to do “one of those festivals where they book all the authors and then they make up some vague, generic name that can encompass everyone.” Conversations sparked by Jonathan Wilson‘s book on Marc Chagall, published by Nextbook earlier this year, and Chagall’s personal fascination with Jesus led the organizers to consider the other ways Jesus has influenced Jewish culture. “And the more I looked the more I found,” Brogan adds, which is why the festival will include discussions of film and music as well as literature. He says he didn’t have trouble finding Jewish speakers willing to tackle the subject of Jesus, either: “I felt like they were just waiting for someone to ask them to talk about it.”

robert-pinsky.jpgOne of those guest speakers will be former poet laureate Robert Pinsky (left). “There are a few great facts that remain perpetually astonishing—none more so than Jesus is a Jew,” Pinsky replied when I emailed him yesterday asking about his expectations for the conference. “In jokes and in great works of art, an inexhaustible richness. I am looking forward to talking with Steve Greenblatt and Eddie Hirsch about the central figure in Judaism’s great offshoot.”