Three new projects of Jewish interest at Kickstarter.com

I’m constantly amazed at the sheer creativity that shows up, looking for a handout, on Kickstarter.com, the fundraising web site I used to finance the first printing of The Comic Torah. (In case you’re wondering, the book is at the printer’s, waiting to be bound.)

Three new projects with a Jewish angle. A Jewish cartoonist whose humor shaped two generations of Jews. A Palestinian art project with Israeli collaboration. And an iPhone app for one of New York’s most Jewish neighborhoods.

Like most of their Kickstarter peers, offer ample rewards and thanks for two-figure donors. So check them out.

Pirates, Superheroes and Shofars

This post came our way courtesy of Alan Jay Sufrin, singer/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist for the band Stereo Sinai. He’s also the official shofar blower at Congregation Anshe Shalom in Chicago this year (and is tremendously excited about it). Here he is with his newest instrument in the recording booth.

So, here we go.

It’s the Hebrew month of Elul, during which it’s a custom to sound the shofar every day. The blog HearingShofar (which, amazingly, is a year-round blog about shofars) just reprinted a page from the comic Teen Titans #45, from 1976, in which Malcom “Mal” Duncan, DC Comics’ first black superhero, is attacked by a shadowy figure who promises to kill him. Then, randomly, he receives a magical ram’s horn from the angel Gabriel.

black shofar

According to HearingShofar:

[T]he tale seems kind of goyish. But hey, Superman was invented by several Jews and much has been written postulating how Jewish legends and archetypes influenced the creation of his character. And we are instructed to sound shofar in times of crisis, just like Mal is.

Which reminds me of a joke that my friend tells way too much — as illustrated by the illimitable comic artist Mat Tonti. What do pirates say to each other on Rosh Hashanah?


Happy Elul, everyone. T-kee-yorrr!

Crossposted from Mixed Multitudes.

I am Wonder Woman, hear me roar

This post was originally posted at the blog of New Voices Magazine. The author, Elle Weiss, is a law student and Emerson fellow from New York City.

Wonder Woman, old and new
Being a comic book nerd is hard enough when people think you have no social life. But is it un-American? Phyllis Chesler seems to think so.

In her latest article, Chesler cites how Wonder Woman’s new costume shows American submission to the evils of globalization. Chesler says Wonder Woman’s getup is “non-American, and therefore anti-American” because it is no longer red, white and blue; for her, this is a sign that “many Americans are ashamed of their own country.”

Is she reading the same comic book as me?

Chesler claims to be a feminist and writes that Wonder Woman “ fought evil in fabulous female form” that was “half-naked, dressed in a low cut bodice, high, sexy boots, and a short ice-skater’s skirt.” This is a great example to set for my niece: ff you want to fight evil, make sure to bring the stripper boots. Wonder Woman’s original costume made her into a sex symbol–but as long as the costume was red, white and blue, Chesler had no problem. Welcome to America, people, where the women are beautiful and wear nothing.

She adds that “Wonder Woman was conceived as a counter to the bloody ‘masculinity’ of most American comic books,” and rhapsodizes on how the series shows women as “natural leaders who could rule the world.” But in the comic, Wonder Woman was shoe-horned into being the Chick for two more popular male characters. In some continuities, she ends up de-powered and running a flower shop. Behold your feminist goddess.

For me, Wonder Woman was the girl who got to look pretty next to the real heroes, Batman and Superman. I never wanted to dress like her or be her, because she seemed so ridiculous. It’s neither empowering nor liberating to force women to dress a certain way for men, be it modestly or immodestly. Freedom is about loving your body and dressing in a way that makes you feel comfortable, not about submitting to chauvinist societal norms.

DC Comics has decided to re-brand Wonder Woman as a more universal symbol. That makes her anti-American? As forward-thinking people, we should be dancing on the rooftops to see a woman being de-sexualized and commanding respect. Wonder Woman doesn’t look like she’s fighting crime in a bathing suit anymore, there to make men star at her body. She looks like a sleek, sexy, crime fighter who is fantastic, practical and less silly. She may not wear the American flag, but she represents the best of America: strong, intelligent women who fight for justice. She can finally be my hero. For a formerly Orthodox girl who dreamed of flying, this represents a turning point. You can be modest and still save the world.

One thing Wonder Woman wouldn’t like is criticizing women for “slumming” in foreign dress, calling it “their native, imprisoning clothing,” as Chesler writes. Respect for other cultures has always been a heroic virtue. Yes, many women wear more modest clothes when entering a more religious environment, but many non-Jewish men (including Superman in one memorable comic) wear yarmulkes in traditional Jewish homes. It’s called mutual respect. Comic books emphasize these universal values, and Ms. Chesler does a disservice to the genre by politicizing it.

I will end with a review from “The Simpsons’” Comic Book Guy himself: “Worst. Article. Ever!”

It’s always Pesach when you’re a robot

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New Golem Graphic

I came across this on facespace and thought it was quite interesting. The artist, Jason Kipp, resides in MN and I love his style.  He’s looking for page sponsors – for $90 you not only help him complete the graph’, you get two faces of your choice drawn into crowd scenes.  Geeky cool.

He’s trying to get this done in time for Comicon in May, so help a brother out.

In Defense of the Local

The Jewish Literary Salon in Krakow - one of the many complex Jewish projects in contemporary Poland

The Jewish Literary Salon in Krakow, Poland - one of the many complex Jewish projects in contemporary Poland

In Dan Sieradski’s recent web project 31 Days, 31 Ideas, cartoonist and rootsman thinker Eli Valley suggests that the American Jewish community create “Birthright Diaspora.” Awkwardly conceived as a 10-day immersion in a Jewish diasporic site, the manifesto suggests that by creating a program in which Israeli and American Jews visit “global” Jewish communities located far from their own, their Jewish identities will transform into something better. Valley writes:

It’s time to expand our notions of positive Jewish identity and at long last move beyond an ideology that fretfully masquerades self-hatred as Jewish empowerment. By digging through centuries of global Jewish life, Birthright Diaspora will help transform Jewish self-awareness and break the dichotomy of “hero” and “victim” that has handicapped internal Jewish intellectual inquiry for decades. The goal is not merely widespread immersion experiences in global Jewish communities but a renewed understanding of Diaspora as a Birthright that forms the roots of Jewish consciousness. If implemented effectively, Birthright Diaspora can lead to an existential transformation in the way Jews and Israelis view themselves and the world.

It is a heartfelt manifesto, and what it lacks in theoretical precision it regains in passion. For many years now, there has been an emphasis on the next big “program” that will contribute to the strengthening of what we have come to call Jewish Identity and Community. Various ideological camps, including Jewschool, have claimed that by funding the notion of “global Jewish Peoplehood,” Jewish identity and community will bz’h undergo the type of “existential transformation” that Valley describes.

I am confident that longing for this type of existential transformation is a red herring, or even more troubling, a fantasy of our own power. By denying the reality that the Jewish Diaspora has geographically contracted and remained intact, our cultural activists continue to accept a model of a “shackled” community that pivots off a vague notion that, as Valley writes, “in the Jewish world, the interconnectivity often manifests itself through ripples emanating from the perceived center of Jewish life in Jerusalem.”
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A Pussycat for Purim

elivalleygoldstonepurim2010mediumforweb

From The Forward’s Purim Supplement. (See also) Last year’s kittens are here.

Filed under Comics, Israel, Purim

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Al Gore is GOD

In Episode 4 of The Adventures of Todd & God: Bal Tashhit (Do Not Destroy), a godly Al Gore teaches Todd how to go green, just in time for Tu B’shevat!

Romanticizing our extremists

I do not hate orthodox believers. I do not hate Orthodox Judaism. I do not hate the haredi or their Judaism either. I like and dislike them as much as I dislike orthodoxy (lower case “o”) in any stream of Judaism, including Reform and Conservative and (yes even!) havurah hippyness. Which I think is why the vociferous, self-contradictory and abusive comments left by self-identified Orthodox Jews on Eli Valley’s latest comic at The Forward are missing the point. Then again, those commentors always miss the point.

Extremists are bad for Judaism. But the romanticization of those extremists — meaning views that put them at the top of the Jewish authenticity scale — is like admiring Islamic extremists for their “authenticity.” The vastness of religion is always shamed by a minority who will excuse their human desires through theology. Women are barred from leadership and study. Xenophobia is granted a divine rubber stamp. Social contract obligations are ignored. The rule of law is disregarded. I would think we can all agree on this.

Which is why I think anybody should be able read Eli Valley’s comic and see the truth of it without going berserk. No where does Eli say all Orthodox Jews are like this. If you feel defensive, then I recommend a particular course of action: speak up not to Eli but the speakers whose words are quoted. (Citations are here.) But the speakers of these words are not kicked out of communal leadership, shunned or defunded. In fact, quite the opposite.

If these speakers had no authority or little influence, they would remain our crazy uncle. But in Israel, the haredim control the Official Stamp of Judaism. And the Modern Orthodox bloc is the home camp of the settlers. And in America, as Eli rightly points out, starry-eyed and naive Jews leave a boring Judaism for another Judaism that at least has a mission. Because of this, we need to (and are) pulling down the boring Judaism and building something better. But we also need to point out that authenticity is a sham. And that evil is evil, especially if it’s authentic evil.

Eli Valley's "The Odd Couple," published in The Forward

Remix your Judaism! – Limmud NY

I don’t what you’re doing over MLK weekend, but I’m gonna be at Limmud NY at a hotel in the Catskills with 700 Jews from every age bracket and every Jewish background imaginable–in short, I’ll be hanging out in the most diverse Jewish community I’ve ever heard of.

We’ll be eating, singing, learning, teaching, and just plain hanging out. On Friday night, we’ll choose from 10 different services in a variety of styles of observance and music. From Friday January 15-Monday January 18 we’ll be learning from some of the most engaging teachers we could dig up and many of us will be doing some teaching of our own.

Some of this year’s most exciting presenters include Adin Steinsaltz (yes, that Adin Steinsaltz), Sara Hurwitz (head of Yeshivat Maharat), Joel Chassnof (hysterical comedian), JT Waldman (creator of the comic book of Megilat Esther and developer of the JPS Tagged Tanach, and many, many more. You could become one of them by volunteering to present or teach or perform or do what ever it is you happen to do!

Limmud NY is where I met my first Jewschoolers and where I first got keyed into the idea that I might be able to live a Jewish life independent of large institutions and the “official” Jews. It is truly the most eye-opening event I’ve ever been to.

You can register here. If you’re from the NY area, you can register for a scholarship, but the deadline for guaranteed scholarships is Monday.

Hope to see you there! Shabbat Shalom.

From Last to First

So…Simchas Torah. Lately, it’s become famous for being the #2 Jewish drinking holiday, but my past few Simchas Torahs have all been pretty clean events — festive and debaucherous in that wholesome way where we jump around with the Torah and sweat up our thrift-store suits until we’ve soo earned every penny of that $15 dry-cleaning visit.

And it’s not just me, I don’t think. People have been raving about G-dcast in a way that makes me blush like they’re saying how good I look, and it’s all positive and gung-ho in a way that appeals to 5-year-olds. And David’s post about the new Moses movie that probably will owe more to 300 than Charlton Heston…but making an action movie about the Torah is as close as Hollywood will probably ever come to a studying-books-can-be-cool movie as we’ll get.

This year, I went to San Francisco. I’d somehow managed to convince my ex-boss, David Levithan (who wrote the awesome Boy Meets Boy, as well as the so-indie-its-jeans-hurt Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), to narrate for us. So we did V’Zot Habracha with a bang.

Then, of course — because some good things don’t have to come to an end — we did our real conclusion episode, and did Bereshit again. (There was a whole huge concert, and Elana Jagoda performed her alterna-folk-dancey children’s anthems, and Julie Seltzer talked about being a soferet, but mostly talked about her project baking a different challah for every parsha in the Torah, and we all just generally rocked out.)

And then the lights dimmed, and we rewound the Torah, and showed our final episode.

Rejoice with The Comic Torah


“Judaism is the world’s most obsessive-compulsive book club,” says Aaron Freeman, standup comic, Storahtelling-certified Torah Maven, and occasional Jewschool contributor. “Every week, religous Jews read a portion or “parsha” of the Hebrew Bible, so that at the end of a year we’ve read the whole thing. Then we start all over again.”

In 2006, Aaron discovered a program called Comic Life and set out to create a weekly visual midrash. Originally illustrated with photoshopped pictures and titled “52 Parshas,” the strip evolved into the Comic Torah as his wife, artist Sharon Rosenzweig, offered to lend her considerable talents to the project if only Aaron would “stop sucking up to the rabbis.”

For three years, Aaron and and Sharon lived the book club life together:
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Just a lovely photo stroll through extremism

I was worried that Eli Valley’s last comic relating Zionists to chimpanzees (however awesome and spot on) would be so far past the (paying) Jewish media’s comfort level that nary I’d see his lovingly-inked caricatures of Jewish fundamentalists and Israel-with-us-or-against-us wackos again. (The Forward did not run that last comic, Gawker did.) Thankfully, no, and Valley graces our righteous indignation with an artistic redux of New York’s barf-worthy Israel Day Parade. Click for the full size.

Eli Valley's Photo Stroll at the Israel Day Parade

Vayelech: Every Hat Has Its Purpose

There’s that thing that people say about the Torah: that every word and every letter is there for a reason. When I first saw Mayim Bialik’s G-dcast, I winced. I mean — she is, of course, smart and funny and clever — but she was, after all, Blossom. And the silly-hat thing — I mean, did we have to include it?

I should not have worried. Just like every word has its purpose, so too does every accoutrement have its purpose — including Mayim’s hat.

And, because we are nothing if not Torah-study completists, here’s the incomparable Dahlia Lithwick, of NPR/Slate/Newsweek fame, talking about the other Torah reading of the week, Nitzavim:

Good Shabbos from Baltimore!

Fuel for Chimpanzee Truth

I warned EV that his latest comic was toxic, and when humor lampooning the Zionist bravura makes even Kung Fu Jew wince, then indeed there is reason to suspect a Jewish daily would balk. So that’s why Gawker comes to the rescue to run “Dawn of the Chimpanzees”. (Click it for larger image.)

"Dawn of the Chimpanzees" by Eli Valley

Now what could EV possibly be saying here? That Zionism is an untimely regression? That idolizing a culture so steeped in “us first”-ism will corrode our universal values? That claims to Israel’s moral superiority are embarrassingly Pyyric victories? Surely not! He’s just calling for a Jane Goodall to translate for us: we’re actually civilized, when you get to know us and lower your standards far enough.

Todd & God: How to Hang a Mezuzah


Learn how to hang the mezuzah in the new episode of The Adventures of Todd & God, presented by MyJewishLearning.com.

Created by me … JewishRobot

Look, up in the sky! It’s a Jew! It’s a Queer! It’s Batwoman!

Batwoman from the cover of Detective Comics #854You might remember the media hooplah in 2006 when DC comics introduced their newest incarnation of Batwoman, Katy Kane, who not only kicks ass but also enjoys breast and thigh. That’s right, the new Batwoman plays for my team.

Somehow, amidst all that hooplah, I missed any reference to another revelation about the society lady / crimefighter — she’s also Jewish. Apparently, DC’s Christmas special in 2006 included a depiction of Batwoman celebrating Chanukkah with her then-girlfriend Rene Montoya.

Well, thanks to Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool for bringing this to my attention.

Why is this relevant three years later? Well, this week Batwoman steps out of the shadows to take the leading role in Detective Comics, the flagship Batman book. In issue #854, which debuted on Wednesday, neither of Katy’s identities get much mention — a chanukkiah is visible in her apartment, and there’s a backup story featuring Katy’s ex-girlfriend who has assumed the mantle of The Question.

It remains to be seen how relevant these will be to the story as it unfolds. But what is clear from this first chapter is that writer Greg Rucka and artist J. H. Williams III are great storytellers. The artwork is detailed and textured and iconic without being derivative, with pages that invite the eye to linger and indulge. The script unfolds at a perfect pace, drawing the reader into the mystery at hand with just enough details to hook you in without giving away what’s happening next. I haven’t read a DC comic in years, but I had no trouble diving into this story and knowing everything I needed to know about these characters and their world. A few of the jokier lines are groaners, but that only adds to the sense that these characters are real people.

Now, Batwoman isn’t the first queer superhero, and certainly isn’t the first Jewish superhero, and isn’t even the first queer Jewish superhero (that might be Marvel’s Wiccan, from the Young Avengers… he might not have been first, but he’s my favorite, so I don’t care). But she’s certainly the highest-profile queer Jewish superhero, and she comes to the fore at a time when…. oh, hell, can’t I just be excited at another queer Jewish superhero? When one’s identity fits into a fairly small box, it’s exciting to see that identity represented in pop culture, particularly in such a well-told story. Don’t take my word for it – go out and buy yourself a comic book.

(Yes, I know I’m mixing references with the title, but I couldn’t come up with a suitable riff on Holy XXX, Batman!)

Sabra Returns to Marvel Comics

If you don’t know about my obsession with Sabra, the Jewish superhero, then just Google around — I’m kind of a sucker for her. I mean, typical Israeli hotheadedness + super powers + guest appearances in “The Incredible Hulk” and “Uncanny X-Men”…well, it kind of equals my dream girl, if you set aside the facts that (a) she’s fictional and (b) I’m married.

sabra, defender of israel, marvel comics Sabra’s official title is the “Defender of Israel,” which sounds like just about the cheesiest thing ever. She wears a blue-and-white uniform, sometimes with a long cape pinned together with a Star of David, of course, and half of the stuff the writers put into her mouth is gag-worthy, and half is totally, spot-on Israeli. When she’s written well, she is arrogant, good-humored, stubborn, compassionate…that mix of delicate qualities that are the quintessence of Israeli culture.

When I was on tour in Manhattan, I even wrote a poem as a pitch for an editor at Marvel Comics, imagining Sabra — who’s always been the ultimate secular Israeli — starting to dabble in being religious. Then I totally scrapped it and wrote a real pitch, which involved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the religious-secular divide, some really deep character work and some stuff about getting over traumas that “Waltz with Bashir” totally plagiarized, even if they didn’t actually see my treatment.

In the past few years, she started making guest appearances, some wonderfully understated (in the background, portrayed with Yemenite features at Darkstar’s funeral in New X-Men) and some just cool cameos (like defending Israel from the Skrulls in Secret Invasion). Last week, Marvel released a Web one-shot short story featuring Sabra — and, while it’s cool to see our favorite (and, uh, second- and third-favorite) Israeli superhero in the limelight, it wasn’t exactly the most promising of beginnings.

The story opens on Sabra at a picnic with her mother. She meets a girl, Yael, whose father fought alongside Sabra’s father in the Israeli Air Force. Sabra relates her own story of being caught by HYDRA, a Marvel-universe terrorist group, and of her father dying while saving her. It wraps up nicely with the girl confessing her fears — “I don’t know what it’s like to fly,” she confesses — and Sabra swooping her up and taking her for a little flight above the Jerusalem scenery.

sabra amazing tales


It’s a nice little sentimental story. No big whoop, no deeper meaning, and even (bonus!) an explosion. On a storytelling level, I have my complaints — the story wastes far too much time at this stupid party, which has nothing to do with the story sabra, defender of israel, marvel comics Sabra’s telling. And, if we’re supposed to care about Sabra’s father saving her and dying in the act, we should at least see what the man looks like. It also feels a little bit like the writer, Matt Yocum, got most of his information about Israel from a quick Google search. Sabra herself has as much personality as a tube of toothpaste, and the 17-year-old girl’s wide-eyed oh-you’re-so-cool-ness — while it’s also uncharacteristic of Israelis (or, for that matter, anyone) — just doesn’t seem real, or give the reader any reason to care. When Spider-Man is awed to be in a room with Captain America and Daredevil, you can tell it’s because, under his mask, he’s a teenage fanboy.

In the Marvel canon, Ruth Bat-Seraph is a national hero. Sometimes, she’s revered; sometimes, she’s mind-controlled by evil bastards and the public hates her. But she’s never been a sucker. Perhaps the worst part are the token Jewish lines — “I never felt more like David…against HYDRA’s Goliath” — which seem like they were made to be used in Hebrew Schools. And the ending, in which Sabra tells the girl, “This is what our dads lived for. This is what they died for. You’ll make the right decision…” is cringe-worthy — not because it isn’t an inspiring thought, not because it’s not what they believe in, but because, in the entire story, we haven’t heard anything about what “this” is, or what it means to either Sabra or her young fan. If Sabra loves Israel, show us Israel. Don’t give us ten pages, not of Israel, not of a cool fight scene, but of talking about abstract ideas at a party.

Please, Marvel — give us more Sabra. But not like this.

Crossposted on Mixed Multitudes