Judaism can come in the most unexpected of packages. At first glance, a nearly seven-foot-tall painting of a single thick black stripe running vertically across a black canvas signifies nothing but itself: a profound meditation on color and form. Yet Barnett Newman titled his 1949 painting "Abraham," after his father, who had died two years earlier, and the Jewish patriarch.
Just outside the city of Shiraz, in Iran’s stark and arid south, lies the gravesite of Cyrus the Great, founder of the first empire in human history to declare religious tolerance for all its peoples. Cyrus, acclaimed in the Bible for allowing the Jews exiled by Babylonia to return to their homeland and rebuild their Temple in 538 BCE, lies in an unadorned and simple stone tomb, a reflection, historians say, of the man’s humble character.
For Israel, the pressure has lifted — for now. After weeks of escalating criticism, the Clinton administration has suddenly taken a more benign tack in its dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s meetings with Netanyahu and with Palestinian Authority chief Yasir Arafat last week reset the clock for the two leaders to make some fateful decisions — decisions that so far they have studiously avoided.
Who will speak on behalf of world Jewry in its evolving relationship with the Vatican? Should it fall to a coalition of secular and religious Jewish organizations meeting with stated goals and guidelines?
Or, should every Jewish organization hold its own separate dialogue, without an umbrella group to provide a unified stance, and without accountability to the larger Jewish community?
How best to honor the memory of half a million Jews buried in the horrific and long-neglected Belzec death camp in southeastern Poland?
That's the heart of a running dispute pitting several rabbis and Jewish organizations that support the approved design plan against New York activist Rabbi Avi Weiss, who insists the plan desecrates the victims and violates Jewish law.
The dispute echoes the debate in New York City over the memorial for the Sept. 11 World Trade Center victims.
British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was hardly surprised when it was revealed that the suicide bomber who murdered three people in a Tel Aviv jazz club April 30 was a British Muslim.
"We have been warning the government for some years that extremist [Muslim] groups were operating in Britain, taking advantage of the extreme tolerance that Britain has," Rabbi Sacks said in a phone interview. "It isn't a complete surprise. But it is a wake-up call."
Jonathan Sacks closed his eyes and cupped his salt-and-pepper bearded chin. England's urbane chief rabbi was asked to explain the state of Orthodox Judaism in light of the publicized censoring of books about Judaism by fervently Orthodox representatives of the "People of the Book."
Columbia University history professor Simon Schama stood at the podium in the Center for Jewish History's auditorium Sunday night relating how the desecration of hundreds of Jewish graves in England last week had affected him personally.
"The headstones of my uncle and great-aunt were turned over," when 386 Jewish graves were damaged in East London, he said.
Thus began a three-day international conference in New York on the rise of global anti-Semitism.
Chanukah 5769 is one for the books — the Guinness Book of World Records.
Around the world this week, several Jewish communities vied to establish various records – largest menorah, largest crowd, largest number of menorahs concurrently lit – at their public celebrations of the Holiday of Lights.