About Journey to Jerusalem

Professor Ari Goldman has taught the “Covering Religion” course at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism every spring for the past 16 years, preparing his students to write about religion for a diverse readership. This year’s course looks at the religions of the Holy Land, including the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sufi, Bahai and Druze faiths. To see previous classes’ Web sites, click here. For more about the Journey to Jerusalem staff, click here. For more about the professors, click here. For more about the trip, click here.

Mariana Cristancho-Ahn covers Evangelical Christians. Mariana studied Finance and International Affairs at Universidad Externado de Colombia and graduated from Columbia University with a B.A in Economics in 2004.  From 2006 to 2009 she was an assistant producer at Bloomberg News TV Latin America based in New York. Mariana can be reached at mdc110@columbia.edu. See all stories by Mariana Cristancho-Ahn.

Mamta Badkar covers the Modern Orthodox Jewish community. She is a graduate of St. Xavier’s College with a degree in English and has worked as a cultural reporter for Verve in Mumbai. At Columbia University she has reported for The Bronx Ink. She can be reached at msb2166@columbia.edu. See all stories by Mamta Badkar.

Maia Efrem covers the Sephardic Jewish community. She is a journalist from Queens, New York and has previously worked for the Bronx Ink and the Russian Jewish Institute. She graduated from Hunter College with a degree in British literature. She can be reached at me2383@columbia.edu. See all stories by Maia Efrem.

Sunil Joshi covers Shi’a Islam. He’s originally from St. Louis, Mo., and went to college at Tulane University, where he graduated with a degree in English. Because he’s not particularly religious, he looks forward to learning more about the faiths of the Holy Land. He would like to cover politics after graduation. He can be reached at ssj2119@columbia.edu. See all stories by Sunil Joshi.

Omar Kasrawi covers Progressive Jewish faiths encompassing Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism. He is a dual masters candidate at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and School of International and Public Affairs. He can be reached at ofk2101@columbia.edu. See all stories by Omar Kasrawi.

Rory Kress is covering Sunni Islam in Jordan and the Palestinian Territories. Kress wrote for the Jerusalem Bureau of the Associated Press and the Jerusalem Post covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the environment and the arts. She reported from all across Israel and the West Bank. Her work has appeared on CNN.com, the Drudge Report, ABC.com and in the International Herald Tribune. She holds a degree in Comparative Literature and Creative Writing from Princeton University. She can be reached at kr2374@columbia.edu. See all stories by Rory Kress.

Jose Leyva covers the Catholic faith. He has a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from the Monterrey Insitute of Technology, and worked four years for the print media group REFORMA in Mexico. The last position he held at REFORMA was assistant editor in the Metropolitan Section. He can be reached at jll2164@columbia.edu. See all stories by Jose Leyva.

Lim Wui Liang covers the Druze and the Bahai. Liang has been a photojournalist with The Straits Times, Singapore’s flagship English broadsheet, after graduating from college in 2004. He has photographed in countries such as France, Pakistan and North Korea and has written feature stories as well. See his work here and email him at wuiliang.lim@gmail.com. See all stories by Lim Wui Liang.

Sanaz Meshkinpour covers Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic Jewish community. She is concentrating on broadcast journalism at Columbia University and graduated with a bachelors degree in political science from University of California, Berkeley. Meshkinpour is a native of Iran and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East. She can be reached at sm3207@columbia.edu. See all stories by Sanaz Meshkinpour.

Tammy Mutasa covers the Christian Orthodox Church. She previously worked as a television news reporter for KAMR NBC 4 News in Amarillo. Her work has appeared on CNN, NBC and ABC affiliate stations. Mutasa is a native of Zimbabwe and a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, she can be reached at tdm2115@columbia.edu. See all stories by Tammy Mutasa.

Sam Petulla covers mainline Protestantism.  He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2007 and has worked at Google, an art library, a Cadillac dealership, and as a freelance editor for friends. He is a newcomer to journalism, having spent the last 4 years mostly writing about philosophy, politics. He can be reached at sgp2121@Columbia.edu. See all stories by Sam Petulla.

Carolyn Phenicie covers the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is a digital journalism concentrator at Columbia and graduated with a degree in print journalism from American University in Washington, D.C. Carolyn has held internships at washingtonpost.com, The Washington Times and forbes.com. She can be reached at cbp2116@columbia.edu. See all stories by Carolyn Phenicie.

Sommer Saadi covers Sunni Muslims living in Israel. She graduated in December 2008 from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where she majored in history and business journalism. Last year, she served as an editorial intern with D Magazine’s business journal, D CEO, and she has worked as a stringer with The Dallas Morning News. She can be reached at ss3729@columbia.edu. See all stories by Sommer Saadi.

Yaffi Spodek covers the Sufi Muslims. Most recently, she worked as the assistant editor of The Jewish Star, a weekly newspaper based in Long Island. In 2007, she interned at The Jerusalem Post in Israel, covering politics, sports, and international affairs. She graduated from Yeshiva University in 2008, where she served as editor of the student newspaper, The Observer. She can be reached at ys2468@columbia.edu. See all stories by Yaffi Spodek.

Josh Tapper covers the Haredi Jewish community. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, he studied History and English at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He’s interested in race, ethnic pluralism, film, music (he once played clarinet in a youth klezmer band), sports and popular culture. Josh is a seven-year veteran of the Canadian Young Judea youth movement. He can be reached at jrt2127@columbia.edu. See all stories by Josh Tapper.


Professor Ari L. Goldman, a former religion correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of three books, including the best-selling “The Search for God at Harvard.” He was born in Hartford, Conn., and was educated at Yeshiva University, Columbia and Harvard. Professor Goldman is a former dean of students at the J School. He has been a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in England and a Visiting Fulbright Professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has been teaching the “Covering Religion” seminar since 1993.


Visiting professor Gershom Gorenberg is the author, most recently, of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. A senior correspondent for The American Prospect, has also written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy and in Hebrew for Ha’aretz. He blogs at SouthJerusalem.com. When not teaching at Columbia, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife, journalist Myra Noveck, and his three children.


Cynthia Bernstein (TA) is currently a candidate for a Masters in International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). At SIPA she concentrates in Human Rights, with a focus on transitional justice and the use of history to sustain peace in post-conflict societies. Cynthia is particularly interested in areas of religious conflict, and the use of religion to promote dialogue and peace. She is thrilled to be joining the class and can be reached at crb2153@columbia.edu.

For more than a decade, the Scripps Howard Foundation has subsidized a 10-day class trip during spring break, in which students put their expertise to work by studying the workings of faith in a region where it is a developing story. Previous classes have visited India, Israel, the American South, Moscow and Kazan, Moscow and Kiev, Israel and Ireland.


Special thanks to Ophir Yarden and the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel.