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At New York Comic Con, creators and fans celebrate Jewish identity

(New York Jewish Week) — A panel on Jewish themes at this year’s New York Comic Con was planned and scheduled well ahead of Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel last Saturday, but its convenor said the traumatic week since made it more important than ever to highlight Jewish joy.

“This is a tough moment to be discussing this, but there’s this moment, this tough space between horror and atrocity and humor and incorporation of memory … that can coexist with joy,” said Miriam Eve Mora, the director of academic and public programs at Manhattan’s Center for Jewish History, who organized Thursday’s panel on “Jewish Identity in Comics Outside the Holocaust.”

“If you focus exclusively on trauma,” she said, “then you miss out on so much Jewish life.”

New York Comic Con, which began Thursday and runs through Sunday, draws thousands of lovers of comic books — and the movies and television shows based on them.

Amid appearances at the Javits Center by celebrities like Ewan McGregor and Chris Evans, there are panel discussions on myriad topics.

For Mora’s panel, some 200 fans heard Jewish authors’ varying views on what makes a Jewish comic. The panel featured Jewish comic creators Alisa Kwitney, Danny Fingeroth, Fabrice Sapolsky, Jordan Gorfinkel and Roy Schwartz.

Jews largely built the comic books business: In the early 20th century, with most publishing and advertising houses reluctant to hire Jews, many found themselves working in the upstart comics industry. In the late 1930s, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, creators of Superman, were among the Jews who ushered in what’s known as the “Golden Age” of comics, and many Jewish-created superheroes followed.

Ahead of Thursday’s event, Mora told New York Jewish Week she wanted to give a more secular audience exposure to this history, and to highlight Jewish comics that were not about the Holocaust. Focusing on the Holocaust, she said, has become a “shorthand” for authors trying to make Jewish characters and storylines.

“I think the goal should be that people who are and are not Jewish, who are creators, can more accurately and casually and freely include Jewish characters from diverse backgrounds,” said Mora, who is the co-creator of the Jewish Comics Experience, a current exhibit at CJH. “We cannot be defined by one type of Jew or one image of Jew, because Jews are a tremendous multiverse in and of itself.”

Mora’s panel is the only one of the four-day convention about Judaism. Last year’s New York Comic Con had no panels dedicated to Jewish topics, though at least two — including a panel that had run successfully in previous years — were rejected.

It is not known whether the inclusion of “Jewish Identity in Comics Outside the Holocaust” in this year’s lineup was a response to last year’s outcry from Jewish fans. Representatives from New York Comic Con did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

At New York Comic Con, Jewish comic creators, from left, Jordan Gorfinkel, Danny Fingeroth, Fabrice Sapolsky, Alisa Kwitney and Roy Schwartz, discuss “Jewish Identity in Comics Outside the Holocaust” on Oct. 12, 2023.(Elizabeth Karpen)

During the panel discussion, comics creator and publisher Sapolsky said that, as a child growing up in Paris, he noticed that many of the authors of his favorite comics had Jewish last names.

“For me, all American comics were Jewish,” said Sapolsky, who is co-creator with Mora of “JewCE!”, a comics convention being held next month at the Center for Jewish History “promoting diverse Jewish narratives in comics.”

For Fingeroth, who is best known for his work editing the Spider-Man comics and his biography of Stan Lee, perhaps the best known Jewish comics creator, a Jewish comic can’t be easily defined. “It’s like pornography,” he joked. “I don’t have a definition, but I know it when I see it.”

Gorfinkel, known for editing the Batman comics franchise and creating the “Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel,” added that, in addition to creating Jewish characters, Jewish comic creators have a responsibility to infuse their work with tikkun olam — the Jewish tenet to repair the world. “A comic’s got to make the world a better place because Judaism is about being a light unto the nations,” he said. “My feeling is, if we have the honor to be able to share our work with multitudes, then we also have a responsibility to put in some kind of ethics or morals.”

Schwartz, the author of “Is Superman Circumcised? The Complete Jewish History of the World’s Greatest Hero,” pushed forward what he calls his “Jewish Bechdel test”: To be considered a “Jewish comic,” a comic must meet two of three criteria  — be written by a Jew, have Jewish themes and include Jewish characters.

He added that, recently, he’s noticed that Jewish comic book authors are creating more explicitly Jewish characters. “They’re comfortable in their own skin,” Schwartz said. “And they don’t feel the urge, the necessity, to put on a secret identity on top of that.”

Today, said Mora, there are more comics than ever telling diverse Jewish stories, noting that many of them come from independent publishing houses and outside the superhero genre.

Sapolsky, for example, recently released “Intertwined: The Last Jewish Daughter of Kaifeng,” which centers on the experiences of a Chinese Jewish woman. Sapolsky’s FairSquare Comics, an independent publisher that aims to promote diversity, will soon release “Hyphen,” a slice-of-life collection including the stories of Jews of color, transgender Jews and other diverse Jewish populations.

Mora underscored the importance of these new comics that portray Jews from across the world, of all races and ethnicities, who practice their Judaism differently. “The more of these that break into the mainstream, the less readers are going to think they know what a Jew looks like,” she said. “And that’s so important for accurate representation.”

Stan Lee, shown in 1991, was perhaps the best known of the Jewish writers and artists who helped create the comic book industry. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Schwartz, who was born and raised in Israel, hoped there will eventually be a positive Israeli comic book character that could be “accepted by everybody” —  a remark that drew cheers from the audience.

Mora had told the crowd that the panelists had decided not to discuss the events of the Middle East during the hour-long session. Still, Hamas’ recent attack on Israel hung over the crowd.

Sam, who declined to give her last name, said she was drawn to the Jewish identity panel in light of the recent violence in Israel, which is now reverberating around the world. She told New York Jewish Week that she wanted to learn more about Jewish comics and how to support Jewish creators because she has Jewish ancestry, but isn’t involved in the Jewish community.

“I feel like I don’t know enough about Jewish culture,” Sam said. “I usually go to a diversity in comics panel and this seemed right to go to this year.”

During the panel, Kwitney, an author of Jewish romance comics and a former editor at DC Comics, said she feels that comics have not properly addressed the issues facing young American Jews — particularly rising antisemitism. “What’s missing is some of what is challenging about being Jewish today,” she said. “I think about the dilemma that a lot of young people are facing on college campuses. To have a character who’s Jewish and in their 20s and not have them face any of the dilemmas where there is anti-Zionism and antisemitism, that’s hard to grapple with.”

Alyssa, an audience member who declined to give her last name, told New York Jewish Week that the panel bridged the gap between her love of comics and her Jewish identity. “Comics have a Jewish origin, but the stories always felt very Christian-centric,” she said. “It’s exciting to see more comics for Jews, written by Jews.”

Gorfinkel, who is an observant Jew, said that he’s always associated Jewish joy with comic books. As a kid, he would stock up on comics to read on Shabbat; it was the highlight of his week. He loved reading comics under the table while his family prayed and he believes that he learned his Jewish values from them.

“I actually learned morality from DC Comics, where the heroes were good and the villains were evil and we always vanquished evil,” he said. “I didn’t learn it from the Bible, I learned it from superheroes. But, hey, superheroes are based on the Bible, so I guess in a way it comes full circle.”

Gorfinkel is currently working on a graphic adaptation of the Torah, the five books of the Hebrew Bible. “I’m using the storytelling that Jewish people from the 1930s and 1940s established and carry through to today to bring out what’s incredible about Judaism and the Jewish faith,” he said. “We make Judaism our superpower.”

The post At New York Comic Con, creators and fans celebrate Jewish identity appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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On Explosive Northern Front, Hezbollah Lurks; IDF Conducts Precise Defense

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol in the village of Khiam, near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon, July 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

JNS.orgAs Israel prepares for the strong possibility of a resumption of war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces is also currently in a heightened state of alert and preparedness along the border with Lebanon, responding to the continuous threats posed by Hezbollah.

Since Oct. 7, the IDF has deployed significant military resources, including artillery, tanks and engineering corps, along the Lebanese border, striking Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads and other terrorists whenever they are detected, either after an attack or preparing for one.

This low-intensity conflict when compared to Gaza has resulted in some 90 casualties for Hezbollah and nine Israeli casualties—six military personnel and three civilians.

Several Israeli homes and military bases have sustained heavy damage from Hezbollah strikes since Oct. 7, and tens of thousands of Israeli residents from areas near the border with Lebanon remain evacuated, displaced from their homes by the threat of the Radwan Hezbollah elite terrorist unit.

In response, the IDF has employed a defensive-responsive posture aimed at protecting Israeli territory from Hezbollah’s aggression but not escalating the situation into a full-scale war front at this time.

Its approach is characterized by a reactive rather than proactive stance. Operations are tailored to respond to specific threats and attacks from Hezbollah, avoiding initiating aggression. This goal remains to protect civilian lives and property, as well as to make sure that Hezbollah cannot surprise the north as Hamas did the south. Still, the decision of any expanded war efforts in Lebanon remains up to the war cabinet.

Hezbollah’s tactics, meanwhile, involve embedding its operations within Lebanese civilian areas; using southern Shi’ite villages as bases of attack; firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli northern homes and military positions; and continuing to pose a serious and persistent threat.

The question of whether the Radwan unit, which has murder and kidnap squads much like Hamas’s Nukhba unit, could breach the Israeli border and conduct attacks has no clear answer at this time, although the IDF is present at the border in large numbers and has proven effective at detecting Radwan unit movements in real-time.

Hezbollah’s terror tactics not only endanger Lebanese civilians but are designed to complicate the IDF’s response—a familiar use of human shielding that Hamas employs as well in Gaza.

In this explosive situation, the IDF currently exercises restraint in its counterstrikes, relying on precise intelligence to target terrorist threats while minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage.

UNIFIL ineffective in curbing provocation

The role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in challenging Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which bans Hezbollah from operating in Southern Lebanon, is nonexistent.

Worse yet, Hezbollah has been actively using UNIFIL as human shields, launching attacks on Israel in some cases from tens of meters from UNIFIL positions.

UNIFIL’s ineffectiveness in curbing Hezbollah’s activities is self-evident, highlighting the limitations of international peacekeeping forces in such scenarios.

Despite this, the IDF continues to remain in contact with UNIFIL and has been transmitting its concern over Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities with no tangible results.

So far, Israel’s policy on the Lebanon border is a delicate balance between essential defense and cautious restraint. But it remains unclear how long this can continue since northern residents will not return to a persistent Hezbollah threat to their lives in the new, post-Oct. 7 reality, and the IDF cannot remain fully deployed in the north indefinitely.

The result is a paradox that appears to suggest difficult decisions in the future by the Israeli war cabinet if the north is to be sustainable and its residents granted a new sense of security.

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The Determination of Israel’s Reservists

IDF soldiers are seen at rest stop near the border with Gaza. Photo: Reuters/Jim Hollander

JNS.orgWho is the Israel soldier? They can be of any age and profession. It may have been a long time since they held a weapon. Many of them are at Tze’elim, one of the IDF’s largest bases, just across the border from Gaza on yellow sand.

When I meet them, they are waiting, as the brief ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was still holding. A short time later, Hamas broke the truce, attacked Israel with rockets, and the fighting began again.

These soldiers are older and more emotional than you would imagine. Their intentions are clear: “Never Again.” The Oct. 7 massacre will never be permitted to reoccur. Israel must be freed from the nightmare of Hamas.

In Tze’elim, rows of barracks and numerous disorderly tents house thousands of soldiers of all kinds. We meet with a group of them from Brigade 252. They are soldiers from the miluim—the reserves. They have completed their three-year military service—or two years, if they are women—but they all keep their “miluim bag” under the bed. If the phone rings, as happened on Oct. 7, they rush to the front, whether they are in Tel Aviv or traveling in Japan, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, professors or taxi drivers. They tear themselves away from the operating room and the shop, the lawyer’s office and the bus they drive.

Commander A. is thin, with gray hair and a kind smile. He is religious. On the morning of Oct. 7, he was in synagogue without a telephone. Someone told him “something never seen before is happening.” A. rushed to his collection point in the south and has yet to return home.

On Oct. 7, the reserves were immediately thrown into the battle to retake the kibbutzim that had been attacked and massacred by Hamas terrorists. They hunted down the Hamas men who remained and collected the wounded and dead Israelis in the fields and on the roads. A. closes his eyes. He has seen hell.

The 252 was then sent into the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, home to 50,000 inhabitants who serve as human shields for what is essentially a massive rocket launching pad. The reservists were trained in a mock-up of a Gaza city. They practiced how to enter, shoot, exit, climb, attack and go through tunnels full of TNT. They trained against ambushes, snipers and RPGs.

A. says that, when they went into Beit Hanoun itself, “We had to quickly learn a lesson: Beit Hanoun’s ambush is in his heart, not its outer circles. The terrorists let you enter easily. There’s a row of houses, two or three more, and that’s where Hamas is waiting for you—where you don’t expect it, in civilian structures.”

A. explains, “If we decide to destroy a structure and there are civilians inside, we warn the civilian population. … There are precise rules for evaluating whether we have to act, whether it’s essential because if we don’t act, the lives of soldiers or Israeli civilians are in danger. We try to stop Hamas’s continuous use of human shields by moving the civilians out completely.”

A. is happy to say, “Of civilians killed in Ben Hanoun, the number is zero.”

Israeli soldiers, however, were killed. Maj. Moshe, a 50-year-old engineer who works in high-tech, explained, “An army generally advances on a territory that, once occupied, is the starting point of your next step. But here, through the tunnels under the ground, suddenly you find the enemy shooting at you from behind.”

Thus, great efforts were made to locate the tunnels. “With the use of sophisticated instruments, and also sometimes suffering unexpected explosions given that Hamas’s specialty is to mine everything with large quantities of explosives, we quickly understood that the tunnels were a very sophisticated network, not holes of various sizes dug here and there, but an enormous spider web that converged on the urban center.”

“The structures used by Hamas, which they protected with human shields, included a mosque, a school, a hospital, a public swimming pool, civilian homes, children’s rooms, even their beds. There were weapons everywhere,” he says.

As a result of the truce, Moshe states, some of the evacuated civilians have begun to return. “We can block them,” he says, “but not attack them or approach them. There is a truce.”

Nonetheless, I point out, three soldiers were wounded two days ago in an attack. “True,” Moshe replies, “and we returned fire. If we are in danger we respond.” He notes that some of the returnees are Hamas terrorists, “but we are in a truce, we act according to the rules of defense.”

“We have two ways of being at war: offensive and defensive,” he continues. “The offensive is much easier: You face the enemy. You can move. Defense is unnerving, even dangerous, especially when there are civilians around.”

However, he says, there is much to do, even during a truce. “For example, we had completely dismantled the explosive systems inside a building, and then we realized that everything had been mined again.”

Hamas, he says, is “easier to deal with than endure while you can’t move. So, we wait for orders. The mission is to destroy Hamas and bring the kidnapped people home. That and nothing else.”

Now that the soldiers are back at war, the humanitarian issue is certainly important to them; not because of what the Biden administration tells them, but because that is what an Israeli soldier is.

First and foremost, however, they are Jews who know exactly what was done to their people on Oct. 7 and will continue their war of justice and survival. One of them tells me, “Yes, I feel when we fight, feel it physically, that our kidnapped citizens are not far away, and I fight for them too with all my heart. This is the most just war of all time.”

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The Moral Bankruptcy of IfNotNow

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Photo: IfNotNow via Facebook.

JNS.orgA few days ago, I attended a webinar entitled “Jews for Ceasefire,” presented by the young Jewish anti-Zionists of IfNotNow. It was hosted by an earnest young woman named Gen (IfNotNow activists often don’t use their surnames), who began by reaffirming what the group calls its main goal: to “end American support for Israeli apartheid.” She went on to emphasize that all the positions taken by IfNotNow are “deeply grounded in Jewish tradition.” To prove the point, she called on Rabbi Monica Gomery, who led a prayer and enthusiastically praised the group’s work.

Next up was Noa, a young woman who said, “I’m going to root us in the moment.” “The moment,” however, did not include Hamas’s Oct. 7 genocidal attack on Israeli civilians. Noa said nothing whatsoever about it. Instead, she presented a litany of alleged Israeli abuses inflicted on Palestinians. Her omission appeared to be deliberate, as it helped portray the IDF’s defensive military operations in Gaza as an unprovoked act of aggression.

Following Noa, there was a testimonial from a young man named Boaz. He made what appeared to him to be a confession that his grandfather helped perpetrate the “nakba.” What he meant was that his grandfather was a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence. For Boaz, his father’s participation in Israel’s successful effort to prevent a second Holocaust was a source of shame, not pride. As he explained, he was trying to work through his guilt. A poster behind him bore the slogan, “Palestine will be free,” a popular euphemism for that second Holocaust.

After Boaz’s self-flagellation came the highlight of the webinar—an appearance by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Tlaib has been an ally of IfNotNow for some time. In fact, the group’s leadership began collaborating with Tlaib before she was elected to Congress. During her presentation, Tlaib referred to them as her “siblings.”

Sporting a t-shirt that said, “Justice from Detroit to Gaza”—a slogan that falsely connects Israel to police brutality controversies in the U.S.—Tlaib declared that Congress must demand a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas and “stop funding war crimes.” Like her IfNotNow supporters, Tlaib conveniently made no mention of the Oct. 7 attack or the hostages held by Hamas.

It apparently did not bother the leaders of IfNotNow that the House of Representatives had just censured Tlaib for her genocidal call to free “Palestine from the river to the sea.” Indeed, IfNotNow leaders repeat the same call in their training sessions. That training also endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to economically strangle Israel, as well as the so-called “right of return,” which aims to demographically eliminate the Jewish state.

It seems that IfNotNow leaders are unperturbed that Tlaib has characterized Hamas’s rampage of crimes against humanity as justified “resistance” to an “apartheid state.” These Jews, it appears, are perfectly happy to align themselves with someone who supports murdering large numbers of Jews. They are also unbothered by the fact that Tlaib posted a video on social media that says, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people”—a genocide that is not happening. One of IfNotNow’s campaigns calling for a ceasefire is entitled, “No Genocide in Our Name.” Having erased Hamas’s genocidal attack, IfNotNow appears to have fabricated one.

In addition, IfNotNow has officially endorsed Tlaib’s statement, “You cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government.” To them and other young Jews who clasp hands with Tlaib and her compatriots, condemnation of Israel is the sine qua non of being a progressive, and a policy of racist exclusion must be imposed on any Jew who doesn’t get with the program. IfNotNow looks to Tlaib to lead the way, even though, like antisemites throughout history, she is happy to exploit them and eventually discard them once they have outlived their usefulness.

Most tellingly, IfNotNow has been unfazed by Tlaib’s open antisemitism, such as her claim that American supporters of Israel “forgot what country they represent,” clearly invoking the “dual loyalty” libel. She has also engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories, talking about the “people behind the curtain” who are exploiting victims “from Gaza to Detroit.”

Worst of all, Tlaib is the only member of Congress to call for an end to the Jewish state. It should not be surprising that IfNotNow is fine with that, as they proudly state that they take no position on Israel’s right to exist.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has perfectly and accurately described such people as “Hamas’s useful idiots.”

The origins of IfNotNow’s ideology are obvious. Like Tlaib and many other “social justice” ideologues, IfNotNow divides people into two groups: Oppressors and the oppressed. Depending on your racial or ethnic identity, you by definition belong to one or the other. There are no gradations, no nuance and only one permissible narrative. Thus, decades of genocidal Arab violence go unmentioned, including the Oct. 7 massacre. There is only Israeli oppression and Palestinian “resistance.”

It would be a mistake to believe that IfNotNow is an inconsequential outlier. They have nine chapters across the United States and an office on K Street in Washington, D.C. The webinar I attended had more than 1,600 attendees.

They also have powerful friends and an enormous amount of money. According to NGO Monitor, IfNotNow has received grants from the wealthy Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the New Israel Fund’s Progressive Jewish Fund and the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

All that, plus support from a member of Congress. It seems that racism, hate and support for genocide pay off.

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