Brown's black and white Valentine

TINA BROWN'S New Yorker magazine yesterday burst out of its traditional covers of summer idylls on Martha's Vineyard and falling leaves in Connecticut, turning instead to one of the city's ethnic flashpoints and reproducing a painting of a Hasidic Jew kissing a black woman on the lips. It was supposed to be a 'peace and love' message for Valentine's week, but an uproar was expected.

Word was awaited from Crown Heights in Brooklyn, the home of the Hasidic Jews, as to exactly how offended they are - a Hasidic Jew is proscribed from embracing another woman outside his sect or his family - and also from the black community, which has been involved in ethnic clashes with the Brooklyn Hasidics.

The cover caused a minor flurry inside the New Yorker itself with staff writers not quite sure how to react. Even the usually assured Ms Brown sought advice. The consensus was that it was a good idea - even a great idea. It certainly depicted the tribal, vengeful atmosphere in Brooklyn, and undoubtedly would be the talk of the town.

Outside mentors agreed. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic and a Jewish scholar, thought it was 'slick and ugly and obviously outrageous, but wonderful. Of course, the parties concerned will be offended but it doesn't offend anyone who hasn't already been offended by someone else.'

The artist, Art Spiegelman, wrote an explanation of his work. 'This metaphoric embrace is my Valentine card to New York, a wish for the reconciliation of seemingly unbridgeable differences in the form of a symbolic kiss. It is a dream, of course - in no way intended as any kind of programmatic solution. The rendering of my dream is intentionally, knowingly nave, as is, perhaps, the underlying wish that people closed off from one another by anger and fear - Serbs and Croats, Hindus and Muslims, Arabs and Israelis, West Indians and Hasidic Jews - could somehow just 'kiss and make up'.'

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