Telling Israel’s story like never before
Graphic novel on history of Israel, Homeland now available
-- Wendy Margolin
In September, a 12-year-old boy returns to his synagogue for what he expects will be his last uneventful year of Hebrew school education. But when the teacher hands each student a copy of
Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel, he can't help but raise an eyebrow.
For two straight hours the class discusses the introduction and the first three pages of the graphic novel, a book that doesn't look anything like the textbooks the boy has encountered in the past. At home, he has already pored over the first 25 pages by the time he goes to bed. At that point, his father picks up the innovative book and reads Israel's story.
Homeland ends up permeating the entire family, or at least that's what William J. Rubin, executive editor, hopes.
Like the biblical Nachshon, who was the first to enter the Red Sea, Homeland by Nachshon Press is an unprecedented depiction of Israel's history. The graphic novel, a modern form of sequential art that grew out of comics, is an educational medium that Rubin, who is also executive director and chief operating officer of the Community Foundation for Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago (an affiliated agency of JUF/JF), believes will revolutionize Israel education.
Beginning with Abraham, Homeland uses art and documentary photographs from Israel's national archives to depict Israel's history, which is narrated by a university professor. Her course on the history of Israel, along with the class's visit to the country, is what ties the string of events together.
Like any graphic novel, the art by Mario Ruiz does not just depict the text, written by Marv Wolfman, but rather tells the story on its own level. When Abraham fathers a child with his maidservant, the anguish on his wife Sarah's face is apparent in the drawing. And looking at the drawing of the false messiah, Shabbetai Tzvi, tells the tale of how so many Jews were lured by him.
Fourteen pages are devoted to telling aspects of the Bible that relate to the Land of Israel, followed by more than 40 pages leading up to 1948. Peppered throughout are text and depictions of historical figures and events related to the Jewish people's attachment to the Land.
"Without the early rooting of the Jewish people being in the Land, the narrative of Israel doesn't hold," says Rubin. "If we had started with the 19th century, one could make the case that the Jewish people don't have a place in the Land." The second half of the book, which totals 119 pages, includes modern Israel's history, innovation, life and culture.
Homeland highlights many of Israel's strengths, as well as some of the history's blemishes, such as the battle for Deir Yassin in 1948 where between 100 and 250 Arabs were killed by Jewish forces.
"This is not a piece of propaganda," says Rubin, "If we didn't include the blemishes of Israel, then we wouldn't have done justice to Israel education." Rubin went on to say, "We might be critiqued for being too far to the right or too far left, but nobody can say it's a light piece of work. This is a serious effort to tell Israel's story."
Homeland is packed with meaning for the sophisticated reader. The book begins with the words, "In the beginning," and ends with "Israel," just as the Torah does. Themes, like that of Nachshon symbolizing one who is the first to enter new waters are repeated throughout the book. A photo of individuals including Moses, Theodor Herzl and teen tour participants looking across the water at modern-day Israel, appear three times, becoming clearer with each occurrence. And pages in red hues depict the Jewish people's most trying times.
As one familiar with the field of comics and graphic novels, or sequential art, Rubin always had a vision of conveying the history of Israel in this medium. Sequential art, a term coined by the late comic-book giant Will Eisner, has proved an effective educational tool in the past, with Art Spiegelman's two volumes of Maus, depicting the experience of the author's father in Auschwitz, and a series of educational worksheets developed by CrossGen Comics for students with reading challenges.
When Rubin picked up the graphic novel "Testament," a work on the Hebrew scriptures, he contacted
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who had written the work's introduction. Rubin sought out one of its creators to consider producing a similar work on the history of the State of Israel. With Mario Ruiz on board as the artist, the two asked Marv Wolfman, pre-eminent comic-book veteran, to join the project. Gary Shapiro and Keith Kanter were also part of the Homeland team from the outset, and were later joined by Barbara Chandler. A grant from the Rosenwald School Foundation paved the way to make the project possible, and the team at CFJE, along with outside consultants and scholars, guided every step of the book, which is published by the agency's imprint, Nachshon Press LLC.
Rubin says the book serves primarily as a source of Israel education for the Jewish community, but he is confident it will be an educational tool for the non-Jewish world as well.
The next step will be to develop teaching guides for various ages and one for churches.
"We made a significant investment of energy to bring this to fruition," Rubin said. "We're fairly confident it will be good for the Jewish people."
Reprinted with permission from JUF News. This article first appeared in JUF News, the monthly publication of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
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