The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Doctor Leonard Samson, better known as “Doc Samson,” strides down the corridor and into the classroom, massive muscles rippling beneath his skin-tight red costume. He sports a long mane of hair, just like his biblical namesake (except the real Samson’s hair wasn’t green, presumably).
Today, Doc Samson, taking a welcome break from his crime fighting, is visiting the children at his old Hebrew school to tell them all about Chanukah. It’s a very special occasion, so Doc Samson’s wearing a navy kippa along with his skin-tight red costume. The teacher, an aging bubbe named Mrs. Klein, proudly introduces our colorful hero: “I was his teacher here at the yeshiva when he was a very little boy.”
But the chutzpadik kids are unimpressed by their bizarre guest.
One student voices his certainty that Doc Samson had been beaten up by the Hulk. Others ask whether the Maccabees had guns or cable TV.
One precocious girl wisecracks, “Aren’t Maccabees like little cookies?” To which Doc angrily snaps, “No! Those are macaroons.”
Doc realizes he’s losing his restless audience, so to Mrs. Klein’s horror, he starts spicing up the Chanukah story: the Greek villain Antiochus suddenly becomes an evil robot, Judea now looks an awful lot like Krypton, and Captain America, Wolverine and The Hulk come to the rescue in the end, wiping out Antiochus for good.
“They, uhnuked him,” announces Doc Samson, as Mrs. Klein drops her head into her hands in disgust.
That story may come from a Marvel Comics Holiday Special issue (Jan. 1993), but it mirrors the sad reality that for many young Jews, the ancient story of Chanukah feels, well, pretty ancient. Antiochus just doesn’t seem that scary compared to the Green Goblin or Magneto. Today’s children are too busy downloading clips from YouTube onto their iPods to explore the deeper aspects of their Jewish heritage.
No wonder the real reason for Chanukah has been largely forgotten, and the celebration has become a merely cultural (not to mention a highly commercial) enterprise. Yet there’s so much more to Chanukah than latkes, doughnuts – and that Adam Sandler song, funny as it may be.
I like to think that if kids (and not a few adults) knew more about the amazing Jewish connection to the world of pop culture in general, and of comic book superheroes in particular, maybe they’d be more excited about the rest of their Jewish heritage. Believe it or not, Doc’s wacky adventures at the yeshiva are just one example of the intersection between Jewish culture and comic books.
My recently published book, Up, Up and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero, looks at all the Jewish writers, artists and editors who have shaped the all-American superhero over the last 70 years, beginning with Superman and continuing through the X-Men saga of today.
Though a comic book aficionado since childhood, I later re-read the classic superhero comics from an entirely new perspective – as a rabbi and through the lens of Jewish tradition and spiritual belief. My new perspective – along with my observation of Jewish students ignoring Torah study while engrossed in the latest comic books – motivated me to write Up, Up and Oy Vey!
Think I’m exaggerating the connection? Well, I just contributed to a Public Radio International special called “Chanukah: A Time for Superheroes,” set to air during the holiday season. Writers Michael (Kavalier and Clay) Chabon, Neil (Sandman) Gaiman, Stan (Spider-Man) Lee and The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg explore the legends of ancient and modern Israel that have shaped today’s Jewish psyche. The show also features an audio voyage to Joe (Sgt. Rock) Kubert’s cartooning school in New Jersey, where Irwin (the Green Lantern) Hasen teaches, and visits with Joker creator Jerry Robinson. These genre celebrities recount the story of Chanukah through their own experiences. And sure enough, many of them cite biblical archetypes as the inspiration for their comic book creations.
One of the cleverest comic book twists on the Chanukah story showed up in Justice League of America #188 (DC Comics, March 1981). The Justice League character known as the Atom is a not-terribly-observant Jew (in addition to being the tiniest superhero in the known universe). In this particular issue, the Atom spends Chanukah with his Jewish non-superhero friends. Atom admits with some embarrassment, “I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’m not very religious.” Yet he becomes fascinated by the Chanukah menorah and by the miracle of oil, which miraculously burned for eight days when it should only have burned for one.
Later that night, Atom is beamed up to the League’s space station. It’s been attacked, and its life-support systems have failed. Incredibly, though, the oxygen supply on board lasts long enough for vital repairs to be made. Not surprisingly, the newly inspired Atom compares that miracle to the miracle of Chanukah.
In a way, the Atom serves as a perfect metaphor for the Jewish people: the Greek forces led by Antiochus were undoubtedly the super-villains of their day – a lean, mean fighting machine armed with all the latest high-tech gadgets. Facing them are the Maccabees – a small, unprepared people who were vastly outnumbered. Yet the Maccabees were victorious.
The story might have been lost in the mists of time, except that to this very day, no matter how much darkness surrounds us, the Jewish people still light the menorah, in a gesture of reverence for our past and hope in our future.
Perhaps even a few superhero lessons can be gleaned here. (Come on: I’m a rabbi, remember?):
· Oil does not mix with other liquids, but rather rises to the top. A superhero rises above the mundane, everyday obstacles and focuses on the bigger picture of saving the world. Rather than sitting semi-comatose in front of the latest TV show, a real hero makes things happen in the real world.
· The olive produces its oil only under pressure. When the pressure’s on, that’s when a hero shines.
· As Doc Samson discovered, being a teacher isn’t easy. And teachers are today’s real heroes. They remind us that the great people of our past, like the Maccabees, did remarkable things and won amazing victories while armed with little more than their faith. If they could do it, imagine what we can accomplish. Even without long green hair and red spandex tights.
About the Author: Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, an internationally known best-selling author whose first book, "Up, Up and Oy Vey!" received the Benjamin Franklin Award, has been profiled in leading publications including The New York Times, The Miami Herald and The London Guardian. He was recently voted New York’s Hippest Rabbi by PBS Channel 13. He chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at Pratt Institute. His forthcoming book is “The Case for Children: Why Parenthood Makes Your World Better.”
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
We take a whole person approach, giving our people assistance with whatever they need.
During my spiritual journey I discovered G-d spoke to man only once, to the Jewish people at Sinai
20 years after the great Ethiopian aliyah, we must treat them like everyone else; no better or worse
Many Black protesters compared Baltimore’s unrest to the Palestinian penchant of terrorism & rioting
She credited success to “mini” decisions-Small choices building on each other leading to big changes
Shavuot 1915, 200000 Jews were expelled; amongst the largest single expulsions since Roman times
Realizing there was no US military threat, Iran resumed, expanded & accelerated its nuclear program
“Enlightened Jews” who refuse to show chareidim the tolerance they insist we give to Arabs sicken me
Somewhat surprisingly, the Vatican’s unwelcome gesture was diametrically at odds with what President Obama signaled in an interview with the news outlet Al Arabiya.
The recent solid victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party produced something very different.
The reaction is so strong that nine times out of ten, parents engage in some form of coping mechanism before arriving at a level of acceptance of a special-needs diagnosis.
“…his neshamah reached out to us to have the zechus of Torah learning to take with him on his final journey.”
With the newest Superman film, “Man of Steel,” set for release next week, it seems only fitting to look back at the two men who created the world’s most famous superhero.
My wife was called for jury duty when she was pregnant with our fourth child. Since her due date was looming, her doctor wrote a letter to the court, asking for an exemption. When I went to the courthouse office to deliver the letter, I was taken aback by how long the line was.
It’s being called a game changer. Everybody seems to be talking about the recently released Jewish Community Study of New York and its surprising findings regarding New York’s changing Jewish demography.
In March 1941 – nine months before the attack on Pearl Harbor impelled America to enter the Second World War – one colorful American hero already had joined the battle: Captain America.
As an Englishman living in New York, I’ve become rather ambivalent toward the Royal Family over the years. The latest scandal rocking Buckingham Palace hasn’t changed my attitude.
Throughout our history, the survival of the Jewish people has depended upon the courage of Jewish women. With their unassuming femininity and modest morality – not to mention their wills of steel – they have led us by the power of their personal example for thousands of years.
For days after the Al Smith Memorial Dinner, held in mid-October at the Waldorf Astoria, the media buzzed with clips of presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama delivering hilarious routines that put many professional comedians to shame.
The release of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight,” will inevitably be overshadowed by the untimely death of one of its stars, Health Ledger, who played the Joker. The talented young actor (who actually lived a few blocks from me) had devoted himself to creating an original, multifaceted portrayal of the iconic character, arguably the most compelling villain in the Batman canon.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/chanukah-a-time-for-superheroes/2006/12/13/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: