In 1969, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) decided he wanted to paint a Christmas scene from Bethlehem. He flew to Jerusalem with his wife Molly and his photographer Brad Herzog. From the roof of a Bethlehem hotel on Christmas Eve, he viewed the pageantry of the ancient Church of the Nativity (built from 527 to 565) and directed the scenes he wanted his photographer to capture.
The final result, which involved some negotiation with the art director of Look, is the painting below, “Christmas Eve in Bethlehem,” which appeared fifty years ago in the December 29, 1970 issue of the magazine. The procession of cardinals, bishops and priests is in the background, with their shadows cast on the wall of the Basilica. A family of tourists watches and takes photos from the rooftop, alongside armed soldiers who are kneeling. The art director wanted Mr. Rockwell to include just one soldier, but the observant artist said in Israel he always saw soldiers working in pairs. Also, he was asked to remove the person standing on the far left, but he wanted to depict Jews, Christians and Muslims together.
I’m glad Mr. Rockwell kept them together. My hope for Christmas Eve 2020 is that we can keep it together, too.