7 Jewish Essays to Help Us Remember Fallen Soldiers

Gravestones with American flags in front of each one

Although Memorial Day – which Americans will observe this Monday – is not a Jewish holiday, the idea of remembering and honoring those who died in service to our nation is certainly a Jewish value. With that idea in mind, we’ve rounded up these stories and prayers to share with you ahead of the long holiday weekend.

1. 5 Jewish Readings for Memorial Day

Including both ancient and contemporary texts, this compilation of prayers and readings offers a selection to enrich your holiday observance.

2. Why I Serve in the Military

Although the two never met, Aaron Rozovsky shares why he thanked Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer Heath Robinson, z’l, each week before Shabbat in Petoskey, Michigan.

3. Hatred and Bigotry Have No Place in “The Purest Democracy”

Rabbi Dan Bronstein, Ph.D., writes about Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, who, as a chaplain for the United States Marine Corps, delivered what became an historic eulogy, following Iwo Jima, one of the most devastating battles of World War II.

4. Rethinking Memorial Day

Rabbi Douglas Kohn reconsiders his own patriotism and relationship with the military in today’s America – and helps readers use a Jewish lens to do the same.

5. Yom Kippur in Vietnam

Mike Rankin, z”l, a military physician, shares his remembrances of a Kol Nidre service aboard a destroyer following a battle with the North Vietnamese Army that resulted in many deaths.

6. The Normandy Kaddish Project

Alan Weinschel recounts how a trip to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach reminded him of his responsibility – and ours – to remember these fallen soldiers by saying Kaddish for them annually.

7. From Battle to Metaphor: The Meaning of Waterloo in Modern Jewish History

Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D. writes about what connects the Battle of Waterloo – which took the lives of 26,000 souls in one day – and Reform Judaism.

May those we remember on this Memorial Day rest in peace and may we, taking to heart the teaching of the Prophet Isaiah, continue the sacred task of beating our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.

Raising Resilient Teenagers: Resources That Can Help

May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Barefoot young man sitting on floor against a wall, knees up with face tucked in and arms wrapped around his knees

Being a teenager is difficult. It is a time filled with all types of changes – biological and physical, social, emotional, and intellectual. What’s more, thanks to the expectations placed on them by society, parents, peers, and, frequently, the pressure they put on themselves, today’s adolescents are extremely prone to stress.

With days (and nights) filled with academics, extracurricular activities, sports, community service projects, religious studies, and homework it’s no wonder that today’s teens are more overwhelmed and worried about failure than their peers in past generations. All this pressure only drives teens’ desire for perfection and fuels their need to be the best – at everything – to keep pace with the competitive world of college admissions.

The number of teenagers who struggle with mental health issues increases daily. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, at least 20% of the teenage population has been diagnosed with conditions related to mental health. I can only imagine how many others face anxiety, depression, and other challenges that remain undiagnosed.

Despite its widespread presence, many of us still speak about mental illness in a whisper. Just as the word “cancer” made us uncomfortable in previous generations, the words “mental illness” often do the same to us today. Worst of all, they prompt negative stereotypes and stigmas, as well as judgmental, discriminatory, and exclusionary behaviors that can blind us to the Jewish concept that each of us is created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of the Divine). Such behaviors, especially in light of the rash of school shootings in our country, can be culprits that prevent teens from seeking the help they may need.

In a similar vein, as last week’s Torah, B’midbar, reminds us, all of us count. Each of us is part of a greater whole and we matter. Our uniqueness is not simply what makes us human; it is the place in which we find our inner, divine sparks.

Of course, most of us understand that mental illness it is treatable – and, in fact, may have sought medication to help us better manage our own anxiety or depression. We are aware, too, that symptoms can be triggered by situational events or be part of a genetic or neurological disposition. Thankfully, our government recently has increased funding for the treatment of and education about mental illness.

And yet, much remains to be done.

I am hopeful that this month’s promotion of mental health awareness will remind us all that caring for each other is an integral Jewish value and that teens, in particular, need reassurance that they are not alone when facing strife. The ability to rebound from adversity and problem-solve in overwhelming or stressful circumstances are important life skills and it is crucial that teens develop them on the way to becoming successful and confident adults.

Although schools increasingly provide opportunities for teens to develop these skills, a sense of a meaningful, deep connection with Judaism also can help foster teens’ positive development. Of course, being Jewish is only one facet of identity, but when it meets individuals’ needs, it can be of tremendous value, especially during adolescence. It is our responsibility, then, to ensure that the Jewish community is a place of belonging and welcoming for teens and for all who seek a place in our midst.

These books and online resources may prove helpful in this critically important endeavor:

During Mental Health Awareness Month, and always, may our hearts be open, and may we be empowered to reach out to those who in their darkness, need more light. May we feel brave enough to share our own struggles with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses.  And, may all of us feel safe, loved, and cared for, knowing that we are not alone.

Since 1949, May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month. For more information, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and other online resources.

The Nazirite Vow: Connecting to a Higher Power from “Ten Minutes of Torah”

NASO, NUMBERS 4:21−7:89

D’VAR TORAH BY:
RABBI LISA GRUSHCOW

Hands reach up in prayerJews are not ascetics — or at least, so we tend to think. If you are interested in pursuing this, check out the Hasidei Ashkenaz of medieval German Jewry, who, among other pietistic practices, would flog themselves, roll in the snow in winter, and cover themselves with honey to be stung by bees in summer. But Parashat Naso describes what seems to have been a much more familiar ascetic practice, in biblical times and beyond: becoming a Nazir.

Nazirs, or Nazirites, (nazirim) are introduced in this parashah as men or women who vow to follow three basic prohibitions: not drinking wine or alcohol, or eating anything derived from grapes; not cutting their hair; and avoiding contact with the dead (which, in biblical terms, would cause an impure state) (Numbers 6:1-21). Although elsewhere in the Tanakh we find lifelong Nazirites, like Samson and Samuel, and in the Christian Bible, John the Baptist, here we find a case where someone takes on a temporary vow, followed by a sacrificial ritual when the designated time is complete.

The passage about the Nazirite follows a description of the sotah, the wife who is suspected of adultery and subject to a trial by ordeal (Numbers 5:11-31). Both these passages, and other laws in Naso, reflect a focus on priestly rules and the purity of the Israelite camp. In other ways, though, they are portrayed as opposites; Rabbinic literature links them by suggesting that when one sees the uncontrolled behavior of an adulteress, one is warned against the dangers of wine.

The condemnation of adultery is unequivocal in the Torah and later Jewish writing, as complex as the case of the sotah may be. But there is much more ambivalence surrounding the Nazir. Is it always bad to abstain from wine, a source of joy? Or are there times when such a decision is not only justified, but also worthy of praise, given alcohol’s potential to cause harm?

This touches on another myth: Jews are not alcoholics. Wine is served at Kiddush and four cups are served at the seder; on Purim, drinking is said to be obligatory; and countless programs for young adults, whether “Torah and Tonics” or “Latkes and Vodka,” use alcohol as part of their appeal — as if it is never a problem.

But the commentaries on Naso reveal a deeper truth. “In every instance where wine is mentioned in the Torah,” we read, “it always leaves a mark” (B’midbar Rabbah 10:4). The Midrash zooms in on the stories of Noah and Lot, and even Adam and Eve (with the suggestion that the fatal fruit Eve gave Adam, was actually a grape), describing different levels of drunkenness and the dangers they carry. Perhaps even more significantly, there is a recognition that alcohol affects different people in different ways. “Wine itself is neither positive nor negative,” Rabbi Alexander Kohut (Hungarian, 19th century) writes; and the modern commentator, Nehama Leibowitz, sees the Nazirite’s vow as “a necessary but extreme medicine for spiritual ills” (Leibowitz, Studies in Bamidbar, Ahva Press, 1980, p. 57). With great insight, Gersonides (French, 14th century) notes, “Just as the previous chapter [on the suspected wife] was intended to quell contention between people, the Nazirite vow is intended to silence the unhealthy turmoil inside a person, arising from the physical desire that might lead one to sin.”

So how might Nazirite practice be explained, in light of our knowledge about addiction? We know that for recovering alcoholics, a sip of alcohol has a different effect than it would on anyone else. The Rabbinic concept of “building a fence around the law” thus could have a very tangible meaning: that we avoid not only alcohol, but also ingredients used to make it, as a way of separating oneself from temptation. Likewise, avoiding contamination by the dead could be understood as distancing oneself from associations in one’s previous life as an addict — a path that can lead to a return to addiction, and ultimately, to death. And not cutting one’s hair? Perhaps that could be seen as a commitment to humility, to valuing the integrity of internal choices over external appearances. Also, as some commentators suggest, the fact that Nazirites can be recognized as such allows others to help them on their paths by reminding them of their commitment.

I never would have come to this perspective, were it not for a congregant who learned this passage at Torah study one Shabbat morning, then approached me to ask about the Nazirite vow as a component of her own recovery. After more study and discussion, she decided to go forward with a private vow in front of the ark. When asked to describe her choice, here is what she said:

I am choosing to become a Nazirite for several personal reasons. First of all … being an alcoholic, this commitment I have already made to stay sober will also help keep me connected to God, and allow me to include my spiritual beliefs and being a Jew as part of my commitment to sobriety. Also, making commitments for a year not to cut my hair and not to consume any grapes or grape products, will remind me that I am a Jew and how important my beliefs in God are on a daily basis…. This is not for status or to be better than anyone. This is to help me to become a better me.1

As ancient and obscure as it may seem, I have come to believe that the Nazirite vow gives a Jewish tool to those who struggle with addiction. Rather than a commitment to asceticism for its own sake, it can be part of an attempt to make good choices by drawing firm lines and connecting to that “Higher Power” we call God.

Here is what I find most beautiful. The laws surrounding the Nazirite are followed in our parashah by the priestly benediction, Birkat Kohanim (Numbers 5:22-27). This blessing is transmitted by the priests but ultimately comes from God. “A mortal does not know with what to bless another,” notes the Ketav Sofer (Hungarian, 19th century), “for what he thinks may be good for another person may in reality be bad for him, and vice versa. Rather, may God, who knows what is good for you, bless you.” Parashat Naso recognizes that as human beings — in all our individuality — we make mistakes, and we are flawed; it is not despite this, but because of it, that we are worthy of blessing.

1. Personal correspondence, shared by permission.

Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, D. Phil., is senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Montreal, Canada. Rabbi Grushcow is the author of Writing the Wayward Wife: Rabbinic Interpretations of Sotah, the editor of The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality, a contributor to The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and a regular columnist with the Canadian Jewish News. She serves as co-president of the Montreal Board of Rabbis. 

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Is There a Blessing for a Blintz?

Three blintzes on a plate garnished with peach slices and a dollop of sour cream

When you marry someone, you not only get a spouse, you also get another family. When I married my husband, Rabbi Donald Goor, I inherited his mother and father, his siblings, their children. I even inherited his grandmother: Jeannette Multer. Jeannette wasn’t “Nana” or “Bubbie” or “Safta” or “Gramma.” She was “Grandmother.” Grandmother. And the properness of “Grandmother” embodied who she was: exacting, precise, and at times a bit rigid.

But Grandmother was also a voracious reader (she had once owned a bookstore), an astute student of politics and world affairs, a lifelong, dedicated Reform Jew, and a passionate Democrat left-wing voter who wrote letters to politicians with whom she both agreed and disagreed. Her cooking was legendary and holiday tables were overflowing with family favorites: matzah farfel muffins and an almond torte for Passover, assorted fruit pies for Thanksgiving, an amazing sour cream coffee cake, and for Shavuotthere were Grandmother’s blintzes.

Shortly before Grandmother died, she shared the secret to the blintzes with me and my friend Rachel Andress-Tysch. We stood alongside Grandmother in her Beverly Hills kitchen and watched her mix and pour batter and flip from pan to plate the “bletlach” (Yiddish for crepes). Two, small aluminum steep-sided pans moved back and forth across the stove’s gas flames and with a quick “zetz” (Yiddish for smack or hit) to the pan’s handle the blintz turned.

“The first one you throw away…it’s greasy and it’s useless…but taste it, “she said.

It was light and airy and not too sweet. And as if we were in our own Food Channel episode, she taught Rachel and me how to make blintzes. The kitchen was perfumed with toasted butter as we poured and flipped and filled and rolled and fried again. We stuffed half the thin pancakes with a cream cheese-farmer cheese recipe and the other half were filled with Grandmother’s recipe for a cheese-less fresh fruit filling. And those crepes that were not perfectly round and browned – we sprinkled them with powdered sugar and devoured them standing around the stove.

At the end of the cooking lesson, Grandmother gave me a Nordstrom’s shopping bag. Inside were the two aluminum pans additionally wrapped in plastic bags: “You take them. Use them. Make blintzes for your friends with them. Just throw away the first blintz. Always throw it away.”

When we moved to Israel – made aliyah – in July 2013, we got rid of a lot of stuff as we were moving from a large, four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment. But I kept Grandmother’s pans. They were a link to the past: to heritage, to history, to family. They were carefully placed in a box filled with lots of other kitchen paraphernalia: wooden spoons, a flour sifter, drawer dividers, a colander I especially liked for draining pasta, an orange zester, a variety of baking pans, a set of plates for serving asparagus, and other items I was convinced I’d never find in Israel. (Indeed, I’ve never, ever seen asparagus plates here in Jerusalem.) But when our cargo container finished its voyage from Los Angeles to China and into the port of Ashdod, that box was missing. The pans (along with the asparagus plates and my favorite colander) had disappeared.

Last year, I was cleaning a cupboard above the refrigerator when I noticed a Nordstrom’s bag pushed back into the corner of a shelf. Inside was a plastic bag and inside that were the blintz pans. How they got there is a still-unsolved mystery. At the bottom of the shopping bag was a note in Grandmother’s distinctive cursive penmanship that said:

2 blintz pans.
Use them for Shavuos – or whenever.
Wherever you may be.
Love, Grandmother

I’ve used the pans for Shavuot – and on other occasions. And now, “wherever you may be” is in Israel – in Jerusalem. As I mix that first batch of batter and melt the butter in the pan (” Never use oil!!”), the spirit of Don’s grandmother stands next to me thousands of miles from that kitchen in southern California and her unseen hand guides my fingers as I pour those first spoonsful of batter into the pan. I wait for the bubbles to appear on the surface indicating the bletlach is almost ready. As I see the edges of the blintz brown, I take the spatula and gently pull it from the pan but as I place it on the plate covered with a tea-towel, I instantly remember Grandmother’s cardinal rule of blintz making: “Throw out the first one!” But rather than tossing it away – I roll it up, sprinkle it with a bit of powdered sugar, and in lieu of a blessing (I wonder, is there a blessing for a blintz?) say to myself:

Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu umah naim goralinu umah yafah y’rushateinu!
Happy are we; how good is our portion; how pleasant is our lot; and how beautiful is our inheritance!

That, for sure, is a suitable blessing for a blintz handed down with love and care through the generations.

Chag sameach!

Finding the Richness and the Glory in God’s Ways

Finding the Richness and the Glory in God’s Ways

B’HAR – B’CHUKOTAI, LEVITICUS 25:1-26:2 / 26:3-27:34

D’VAR TORAH BY:
RABBI DAVID A. LYON

Hands lifted to hold the sunlight

Freedom is an ideal for humanity that we constantly strive to reach. In 1986, Elie Wiesel (z”l), on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, said:

“As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”1

To be truly free is to possess the human power to choose to live by the rules that bind us. To be free of any rules is to be lawless; therefore, the rules that bind us should, at best, hold us fast to principles and ethics that lead us to our greatest human potential. For Jews, the rules that bind us are Torah. Milton Steinberg, writing for the Traditionalist and Modernist, as he categorized them (us), explained:

“Torah becomes everything which has its roots in the Torah-Book, which is consistent with its outlook, which draws forth its implications, and which realizes it potentialities. Torah, in sum, is all the vastness and variety of the Jewish tradition.”2

In Torah this week we read B’har/B’chukotai, a double portion that brings us to the end of Leviticus. In B’har, we find the famous verse, “You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10). Inscribed on the Liberty Bell with the word “freedom” instead of “release,” it, nevertheless, connotes the expectation that humanity thrives in places where freedom from hunger, redemption from bondage of any form, and release from tribulations unleash our greatest human potential. Freedom from toil reflected in the weekly Sabbath and cyclical Jubilee year, were chief among the commandments that the Israelites would observe in order to know God’s greatest blessings.

Not unlike our Israelite ancestors, we are also bound to the covenant of teachings and laws within which we seek God’s favor and blessings over the course of our own lifetime. In B’chukotai (Leviticus 26:3ff) we read, “If you follow my laws and faithfully observe my commandments…” then God will cause you to prosper and be blessed.

Our Sages responded. They knew well that prosperity and blessings flowed from God, but they also observed suffering despite faithfulness to God’s covenant. They cited Job, who suffered blamelessly. We find, “His days are determined; You know the number of his months; You have set him limits that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). (Midrash Tanchuma, B’chukotai 1).3 In citing Job, they raised the question: what, if anything, would forestall the end of our days if all was, indeed, foreseen, and if our days were limited even when we did God’s commandments?

Our Sages affirmed their faith that all life is a gift from God. They embraced what was revealed to them by God, and what they could do with what was revealed to them. Rather than be disillusioned about what remained concealed from them, they grasped for opportunities to do mitzvot, to respond to God’s command, and to know that, even when judgment came instead of mercy, it was God’s will, too. They cited God’s goodness to King Solomon, even above that which God gave to his father, David, “And I grant you also what you didn’t ask for, both riches and glory all your life … and I will further grant you long life, if you will walk in My ways and observe My laws and commandments…” (I Kings 3:13).4

Leviticus ends with a list of curses. “But if you don’t obey me…” (Leviticus 26:14), begins the list of ways that God will spurn the Israelites if they fail to keep faith. Today, biblical injunctions and admonishments have lost their sway over us, whether we’re Traditionalist or Modernists. Instead, we’ve learned from rabbis like Harold Kushner, who taught us in his ubiquitous book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” that instead of expecting from God what we thought we deserved, God also grants what we didn’t know was available in addition. Life is hard, and when (not why) it hurts, we can seek and find compassion, unconditional love, and lessons for living. They are God’s “riches and glory,” too.

In “Gates of Prayer” we read, “Just because we are human, we are prisoners of the years. Yet that very prison is the room of discipline in which we, driven by the urgency of time, create.”5 Freedom from that prison doesn’t come from seeking immortality; rather, freedom continues to be the privilege to choose the rules that will bind us. As Jews, we still choose to bind ourselves to the b’rit, the “covenant” that God made with our ancestors and with us for “our life and the length of our days” (Deuteronomy 30:20).

Now, at the end of the Book of Leviticus, we say, chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik, “be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other.” As one book closes and another book opens, our studies of the Bible continue. We have been taught to learn so that we may teach. Let us be teachers of our sacred texts that the world may hear our words, benefit from our deeds, and be inspired by our hopes.

Thank you for joining me in the Book of Leviticus. Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik!

1 Elie Wiesel, acceptance speech, Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, December 10, 1986
2 Milton Steinberg, “Basic Judaism” (NY: Harvest, 1947], p. 22)
3 Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat B’chukotai 1
4 Ibid.
5 Gates of Prayer (New York: CCAR Press), p. 625

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Upcoming Dates to Remember for May

 

 

2 Last Day of Hebrew School

4  Lag Ba-Omer Cookout

5  Saturday Service, Tisch with Rabbi & Carrie

6  Last Day of Sunday School

11  Kabbalat Shabbat with Dr. Mark Packer leading services

12  No Saturday Service

13  Mother’s Day

16 Hadassah Closing Meeting

18  Sisterhood Sabbath

19  Saturday Service

20  Temple Board Meeting

20 Yizkor Service & Blintzes

25  Kabbalat Shabbat

26  Saturday Service

Rabbi Liebowitz in the Community

The Rabbi and Pastor Paul Harmon performed at a fundraiser for Spartanburg Ministries at St. John’s Lutheran Church on April 26.

The Spartanburg Interfaith Alliance along with The Spartanburg County Foundation and our Rabbi traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Pilgrimage of Peoples. Approximately 40 people visited the Holocaust Museum, the National Museum of the Native American, and the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

 

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The Avengers: Building on a Jewish Comic Book Legacy

Closeup of a man pulling off a buttonup shirt to reveal a Superman tshirt underneath

Marvel Studio’s latest blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War, is banking on the superhero genre conceived in the early 1930s by two Cleveland Jewish high school students, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster.

Superman actualized the adolescent power fantasies of these two Depression-era kids, who craved a muscle-bound redeemer to liberate them from the social and economic impoverishment of their lives and, in the tradition of the Golem of Prague, to fight anti-Semites.

The narrative is rich in Jewish symbolism. Superman’s parents sent him to Earth in a tiny rocket ship, reminiscent of how baby Moses survived Pharaoh’s decree to kill all Jewish newborn sons. In the context of the 1930s, the story also reflected the Kindertransports – the evacuation to safety of hundreds of Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Europe to lands of the British Commonwealth.

With America’s entry into World War II, Superman, Batman, and other superheroes were pressed into action. “As comic writers,” says Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber), “we had to have villains in our stories. And once World War II  started, the Nazis gave us the greatest villains in the world to fight against.”

Jewish illustrators and writers entered the emerging comic book field because other areas of commercial illustration were virtually closed to them. “We couldn’t get into newspaper strips or advertising; ad agencies wouldn’t hire a Jew,” explains MAD magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee. “One of the reasons we Jews drifted into the comic book business is that most of the comic book publishers were Jewish. So there was no discrimination there.”

Most of the first-wave comic book artists and writers never emerged from poverty. They were underpaid wage slaves with no rights or royalties; the characters they created were owned and trademarked by the comic book publishers. Even Siegel and Shuster earned a paltry $130 for the first Superman story and had to negotiate for meager financial and creative participation in subsequent Superman strips and spinoffs.

In 1961, Lee was tired of being perceived as being at “the bottom of the cultural totem pole” with little financial promise, so he decided to consider a career change. But before he made his move, his boss called Lee into his office and asked him to come up with a new superhero concept that would outperform DC Comics’ The Justice League of America (which combined the revamped Flash and Green Lantern with mainstays like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to form a team of superheroes). Lee took up the challenge, and what happened next may have saved the comic book industry.

Lee and artist Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurzberg) unveiled Fantastic Four #1, a new crime-fighting series featuring four heroes who, for the first time in comic book history, exhibited a broad range of human emotions. Readers could empathize with such characters as Benjamin Grimm (who’d been transformed by cosmic rays into a monstrous pile of orange rocks) despite – or, perhaps, because of – their flaws. To his fellow superheroes, Ben could be a hotheaded jerk, but comics fans attributed his distemper to his being trapped in repulsive orange skin and could feel compassion for him.

Like many Marvel characters, the emotionally challenged Ben became a metaphor for Jews and other minority outsiders who faced discrimination because of their skin color or ethnic roots.

The Fantastic Four quickly built up a large readership, and Marvel Comics soon introduced titles featuring physically and emotionally challenged heroes, such as Daredevil, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk. Thus began the Marvel Age of Comics, marked by Lee and Kirby’s brilliant seven-year collaboration.

The next major breakthrough for Marvel came in September 1963, when Lee and Kirby introduced The X-Men, a superhero team of five men and women born with an extra “mutant” gene that endowed each with a different superpower (telepathy, strength, flight, and the ability to emit deadly optic blasts). From their base at Professor Charles Xavier’s “School for Gifted Youngsters” in Westchester, N.Y., the five set out to fight injustice. The X-Men was a hit among college students active in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, who may have viewed pacifist Professor X’s battle against the militant mutant Magneto as a metaphor for the divergent ideologies of the non-violent Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the militant Malcolm X.

The Jews who pioneered this art form, often for little material reward, are superheroes in their own right, for they have created enduring icons of popular culture. And they did so with an eye toward Jewish values.

Stan Lee summed it up like this: “To me you can wrap all of Judaism up in one sentence, and that is, ‘Do unto others.’ All I tried to do in my stories was show that there’s some innate goodness in the human condition. And there’s always going to be evil; we should always be fighting evil.”

Arie Kaplan is the author of From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books. He has also written for MAD magazine, Time Out New York, Entertainment Weekly, and the MTV series Total Request Live. This article was adapted from “Kings of Comics,” a three-part series in Reform Judaism magazine.

SOURCE: REFORM JUDAISM MAGAZINE