Welcome to With Great Chutzpah Comes Great Responsibility, your every other week dose of Jews and comics.
First off, happy Sukkos. Second off, this weeks article…
Every time I go to temple, I have genius epiphanies. I get some of my best daydreaming accomplished when there are other Jews chanting prayers around me. At this year’s Yom Kippur services, I decided to come up a new pen name. This is because my non-blog writing has recently come under scrutiny for being too controversial. Instead of changing my work, I have decided to just write under an alias, an alter-ego. Back in the day, every comic creator had pen names. Often early creators changed their names to sound less Jewish, but I ain’t going that route. Like Jack Kirby, I just want a cool sounding name. I want something that is both Semitic and Hip Hop at the same time.
As I sat Scrunched between my momma and poppa, making believe I was following along with the Amidah, I set my mind free. The first pen name I came up with was Ahad Ha’am. It means “one of the people.” Of course, I didn’t actually come up with that name, it was already claimed by the great cultural Zionist leader. Ahad Ha’am was Hip Hop before the term was invented, baby! Sadly, I decided that I could not just steal his name. After coming up with many lame names that paled in comparison to Ahad Ha’am, I finally thought of Jay El Iluminado– Jay The Enlightened. Pretty, pretty, prettaaay awesome. It pays respect to Jewish history (Luis de Carvajal), sounds really cocky, is fairly super-hero-y and has rhythm. I may stick with that one.
My mind then began to daydreaming about daydreaming, specifically about how much I learned to use my imagination during my Hebrew school days. Every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, from kindergarten to eighth grade, I would gather with my fellow Yiddish boys and girls to learn about “Torah, Tefillah, Hebrew Language, Holidays, History, Israeli studies, Ethics, Morals and Mitzvot.” At least that is what it says we learned on my temple’s website.
Sessions would start each day in the sanctuary, where the Cantor would teach us prayers. The Cantor was an absolutely stunning character; the dude was one of those monstrous, muscle Jews—the kind that shatter all stereotypes of us being weak and passive. I would dare some anti-Semitic schmuck to step up to this brother. The dude looked like the incredible Hulk. But somehow, us kids still never followed directions or listened to the guy. Here is what I really learned during Hebrew school:
- I learned how to hide comics in my prayer book, so the Cantor would think I was praying. I had amassed a decent collection of mini-comics. These issues were reprints of classic tales that were only about half the size of a normal comic. They easily slipped between the pages of our Conservative prayer book enabling me to not get into trouble as I journeyed into the Marvel universe.
- I learned that my temple had really cool seats. Seriously, these seats had more secret compartments for random goodies that a S.H.E.I.L.D. helicarrier’s chair. The chairs in the audience normally only had the cubby on the back of each seat, but the seats on the stage had secret hiding spots everywhere. So cool, I still need to get me some of these.
- I learned that Rabbis and Cantors have way cooler Tallit than normal people. While us normies had Tallit that resembled scarves, theirs looked like capes that hung from their neck to their feet. I am not saying my Rabbi is a superhero, but if the wind blew the right direction, the dude looked like Superman. On the other hand, when my Cantor got mad at us, which he often did due to the class never listening, he was much more of the Darth Vader-looking type.
- I learned how to make imaginary video games in my head. I would actually make believe I was in a simulator. My elbow on each armrest, back straightened, I would make fantasize that I was in control of the Millennium Falcon, but instead of flying through Shul, I was shooting ships in outerspace. Somehow, in my video game, I never lost. This was as weird and lame as it sounds.
- I learned about the Mutant Massacre, X-Tinction Agenda and all the other awesome late 80s/early 90s crossovers. Like most comic fans in the 90s, I was obsessed with Fleer Marvel trading cards. Similar to the mini-comics, they also came in handy during Shul because they easily fit into your pocket and could be snuck out and slipped between pages.
- I learned where they kept the booze for Kiddish on the stage. This had nothing to do with geek culture, but it may foreshadow my many visits to the Capital District’s finest detoxes in my early-to-mid twenties.
After the class left the sanctuary, we would go to a classroom to learn all the other stuff the school claimed to teach us. Instead, the classroom was more like the Marvel bullpen. My buddy Eric Adler and I spent each session learning human anatomy. I honed my skills so I could be the next Todd McFarlane or Jim Lee. This was also where we participated in our career planning meetings. Of course, my teacher often tried to ruin this for us by constantly talking during our conferences.
It was at one particular conference that I came up with my first pen. Eric and I had learned about Stanley Lieber’s transformation into legendary Stan Lee. Like Stan “The Man,” we also needed hip pen names. So Eric went from Eric to Air Ic, and, like the Phoenix, I was reborn as the amazing Jay Son. Seriously, we were that dorky. I still have a large collection of horribly drawn dooles with the official Jay Son signature scribbled across the bottom.
Years later, after I kicked my addiction to Manischewitz, I became more and more involved in the comic community as well as the Jewish community. Although, I had never connected the comics and Judaism together during my youth, as an adult, their similarities meant so much to me. In a great plot twist, I even was given the opportunity to teach a course on Jews and comics at a local temple. In my class, the kids didn’t even need to daydream about comics anymore, it was the curriculum! Of course, I am certain they still ignored me and daydreamed; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just wonder what spectacular places my student’s minds wandered to, now. The moral of this entire story is to send your kids to Hebrew school so they can learn to stretch their imaginations and be cool like me.