Iconic Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, 77

The crusading Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci spent the last years of her life issuing fiery warnings against a Muslim world that she saw poised to overrun the West.
Critics accused Fallaci of sowing racial and religious hatred, but she became a heroine to many Jews and Israelis for her vocal defense of Israel and denunciations of new forms of anti-Semitism.
“She was the most loved and most hated woman in Italy,” said Clemente Mimun, the Jewish director of Italian television’s main news program.
Fallaci, who divided her later years between New York and her native Florence, died last Friday in Florence after a long battle with cancer. She was 77.A glamorous woman always seen with long hair and thick eye-liner and a cigarette poised in her fingers, Fallaci was a war correspondent in Vietnam and fought as a child in the anti-fascist resistance during World War II.

She never married but had a passionate affair with the Greek left-wing activist Alekos Panagulis in the mid-1970s. After his death in an automobile accident, she wrote a book based on his life, “A Man,” that sold 3.5 million copies.Fallaci became a celebrity icon in the 1960s and 1970s with incisive, baring interviews of global VIPs including Henry Kissinger, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. She also wrote a series of novels and other books.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, marked a watershed.
Fallaci’s “The Rage and the Pride,” a vehement defense of the United States published soon after the attacks, became a best seller and provoked a storm of controversy with its strong language and uncompromising positions.
She followed with further books and articles that lambasted the West for weakness in the face of Islam and minced no words in her criticism of Muslims in general.
Islam, she wrote in her last book, “The Force of Reason,” “sows hatred in place of love and slavery in place of freedom.”
One of her most famous essays was a blistering attack on anti-Semitism published in April 2002 that read like a manifesto.
Repeating over and over the assertion “I find it shameful,” Fallaci unleashed a brutal indictment of Italy, Italians, the Catholic church, the left wing, the media, politically correct pacifists and Europeans in general for abandoning Israel and fomenting a new wave of anti-Semitism linked to the Mideast crisis.In the essay, Fallaci, who long had held pro-Palestinian views, declared herself “disgusted with the anti-Semitism of many Italians, of many Europeans” and “ashamed of this shame that dishonors my country and Europe.”
“I find it shameful,” she wrote,” and I see in all this the resurgence of a new fascism, a new Nazism.”
She recalled that in the past “I fought often, and bitterly, with the Israelis, and I defended the Palestinians a lot — maybe more than they deserved.
“Nonetheless, I stand with Israel, I stand with the Jews,” she wrote. “I defend their right to exist, to defend themselves, and not to allow themselves to be exterminated a second time.”

Holy Moses — The Getty’s latest collection puts a Christian perspective on the leader, lawgiver and

A few years ago I was leading a group of American Jews on a tour of sites in Eastern Europe. Convinced that the narrative and psychological history of Poland cannot be understood without a visit to Jasna Gora, the great pilgrimage church in Czestochowa, and a view of its devotional painting, the so-called Black Madonna (believed to have been painted by St. Luke), I brought the tour group there en route to Auschwitz. To my disappointment, many in the group were puzzled, some even amused, at the crowds of people intensely venerating the small painting.

“Jews don’t do that sort of thing,” they said. When I asked how many of them had placed a small slip of paper in the crevices of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, they assured me “That’s different!” and rejected my argument that we have our own kinds of object veneration, best exemplified in the ceremonial kissing of the Torah as it is carried around the synagogue.

The Getty Center’s upcoming exhibition “Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai” (Nov. 14-March 4) provides a great opportunity to ponder these religious confluences, while also coming almost face-to-face with some of the earliest, and most beautiful, images in Christian art. Mount Sinai resonates for Jews as the place where Moses received the Law from God. The wilderness of Sinai is the place where the Israelites wandered after their escape from Egypt. The images come to the Getty from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of the rugged mountain, which is said to where Moses communicated with the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-5). But viewers might be surprised to see that the Moses images in some of these extraordinary works aren’t the ones we’re accustomed to seeing.

The exhibition includes images from both the “New” and “Old Testament,” but it is the link between the former and the site from which they emanate that may be most interesting to the Jewish community. It’s a major accomplishment for the J. Paul Getty Museum to have persuaded the religious powers in charge to lend treasures from this venerable, yet almost inaccessible, site; but it’s also a coup for Angelenos, since the exhibition will not be seen elsewhere, and few of us are likely to have the opportunity to visit the monastery itself.

But this is more than an opportunity to ogle rare treasures. Indeed, they come to us with a visual tradition of their own, and need to be understood within that tradition. Byzantine art, with its vast time span, from the fifth century almost to the modern era, is generally characterized by stylized frontal figures and a rich use of color, especially gold. It doesn’t look like the more naturalistic art we have come to know since the Renaissance, although visitors will recognize in these icons the underpinnings of much early Italian panel painting. Initially, the somber narrative images may look static, but they merit careful attention to uncover the magic of delicately doleful faces, almost every one with a unique personality, sharing in a piety to which we can only aspire.

As devotional objects, the icons are eloquent, and it’s probably worthwhile imagining the pious monk communicating with these images on a daily basis. They must surely have become personal devotional friends, assistants on the route toward salvation. Seen as mantras for meditation exercises, these icons have a universal quality that goes far beyond the specificity of a given saint or religious narrative.

While the Getty exhibition centers on approximately 43 rare icons, from the sixth to the 17th centuries, the exhibition will also attempt to explicate their context in the isolated monastery whose construction was ordered by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century (he’s the one who built the famous, and beautifully ornate, Byzantine church, Hagia Sofia in what is now Istanbul).

Yale professor Robert S. Nelson led a team of curators who obviously became as transfixed by the place as by the works they were borrowing, attempting to present in the exhibition design a sense of the environment in which Saint Catherine’s sits. For those who want to contemplate the difficulties of land and climate endured by the wandering Israelites, that aspect of this exhibition should be an added incentive to visit the Getty.

Yet the concept of a 1,400-year-old monastery as a Christian pilgrimage site that is so intimately tied to Jewish history would likely be a seductive subject, even without the inspirational art. The show will explicate the role of icons in Christian liturgy, which ought to intrigue both Christians and non-Christians. As professor Thomas Matthews writes in the splendid catalog, the icons “bring us face to face with the deep debt of Christian religion to its pagan antecedents … [and] challenge our understanding of the underlying religious phenomena.”

That will surely be evident to Jewish viewers, as well, for the affinity of so many of our own rituals.

Given the Sinai origins of this exhibition, you won’t be surprised to find a number of images of Moses: Removing his sandals in front of the Burning Bush, receiving the Law and even standing beside the Virgin and Child. You won’t encounter the Moses we’ve seen in later Western art, who’s also the venerable law-giver we know from Jewish ceremonial objects — all of which have their origins in Christian art. Here Moses is a young man, generally beardless, almost diffident, in awe of his God, rather than awesome to his People. This might be a reflection of the monks’ considering Moses as a role model in their lives of meditation and prayer — a Moses striving for, rather than automatically imbued with, sanctity; he is the law-receiver, rather than the law-giver. Among the small number of non-icon artifacts in the exhibition is a sixth century cross incised with scenes from the life of Moses.

Remarkably, these icons were first published only in the 1950s, so this rare public display promises to expand our understanding of an important chapter of art history, especially in regard to European panel painting for which these paintings are important antecedents. The earliest ones have also provided new insights into the cult of icons and the religious sensibilities underlying this major aspect of Christian worship, as well as its debt to earlier pagan sources.

Of Goddesses and Saints

In the aftermath of thedeaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, every woman I know hasparticipated in some version of “The Goddess or the Saint.” We’vetaken sides, debated our husbands and boyfriends, our mothers, ourfriends. At Torah study last Saturday, we weighed the two women interms of a moral dilemma: The princess or the nun, the glamour or thegrit. Our choice of icons defines our lives.

But beyond psychodrama, my response to the deathsof Princess Diana and Mother Teresa is not about either/or. I’m notlooking to them for meaning or relevance to my days. Instead, Irespond to these two women primarily as a mother of a teen-age girl.And my bottom line is, as a role model, I’d choose neither: Iwouldn’t wish on my daughter the life of either one of them.

I don’t want Samantha to be as famous, asbeautiful, as sought after, as besieged, as critiqued, as confused asour departed Cinderella. The cost of glamour is too high. Nor do Iwant her to be as selfless, as holy, as driven or, yes, as pious asthe 87-year-old saint from India. Devotion has its perils too.

From the prism of parenthood, I’m asking: Arethese two icons fitting role models for a sensitive young woman?Could I really place my daughter in front of their lives and say,”There, go follow?” No, no way.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Jewish mother that I’vecome to dread life at the edge. Judaism has no saints, no nuns, nomonks, no superstars; it exalts no one. A normal life without Jobianpersecution is blessing enough for us. A normal life, I was taught,means working hard, but not too hard; pursuing justice, but notdriving ourselves into poverty. A life grounded in the here andnow.

But normal life was not what these women wereabout. Ultimately, Diana belonged to no one. She had no immediatefamily, no religious community (the Anglican Church apparently readher out of its prayers after the divorce), no homeland. Rumor had itthat she was moving to New York, or wherever. Her new love, DodiFayed, though nominally of Moslem descent, belonged to no country orculture; he spent a lifetime jumping from resort to resort, hotelroom to hotel room, woman to woman. Diana and Dodi were spiritualvagabonds, having nothing in common but love. She had money, gownsand even a new sense of self, but by the time her car crashed in thetunnel, she was cast adrift from her moorings.

Mother Teresa, from the opposite end of thespiritual spectrum, was also essentially alone. She had a spiritualfaith, a community, identity and purpose. All things that I hope mydaughter will cherish. But I would not wish on her the weight of sucha burden.

The need for balance, the danger of life at theextremes, is the hardest lesson a parent can teach. Certainly, I wasa difficult student myself. In my teens, only slightly older thanSamantha is now, I craved a life of excitement, romance, intrigue,professional advancement and intellectual idiosyncrasy. I eschewedmarriage, family and sought novelty. I thought I’d travel widely andnever stop.

At the same time, almost in the same breath, Iwanted work that would be a “passion,” a career that wouldn’t let mesleep, that haunted me with its creative demands. I didn’t care if Imade a living, so long as I helped change the world.

And I got what I wanted! I worked on nationalholidays; sometimes, mine was the only car in the office garage. Iturned down invitations to family gatherings to finish articles onlaw reform that no one ever read. My ambition was one part PrincessDi — I’d have great clothes, and terrific men would be attracted tomy youth and passion — and one part Mother Teresa, selfless as theday is long.

My mother spent those years holding her breath,waiting for me to come down to earth. While I swung from theextremes, her hope was that I would know the stability of the middle.Life on the edge gives no peace, she would say.

It is my turn now to fret over the Goddess and theSaint. Samantha, at 15, is every bit the dreamer her mom was. One dayshe wants to be Madonna or Celine Dion, a big-name singer,transported by stretch limo from one SRO crowd to another. The nextday, she cries for the poor and homeless on the street and says she’dlike to live among them, if only for a week, so that she’ll know howthey feel.

She is caught between Princess Di and MotherTeresa. I pray that she veers from the edges and finds the middleground. And lets herself be.

Marlene Adler Marks is editor-at-large of TheJewish Journal. Join her Oct. 5 for the next in her “Conversations”series at the Skirball Cultural Center. Her guest will be Dr. JanetHadda on “Passionate Women, Passive Men.”