Wishing you a joyous (if relatively early) Festival of Lights, which began yesterday at sundown.
During Hannukah, whose name means ‘dedication,’ may we also remember all the great Jewish writers, comics, editors, and other members of the comic book industry; without their dedication and devotion, comics would not be the same (or may not even exist); including but of course not limited to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman; Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, creators of Batman, Robin and the Joker; masters Max Gaines, Will Eisner, and the king of comics, Jack Kirby; Captain America’s writer Joe Simon, and perhaps the greatest comic creator of all, Stan Lee, who gave us Spider-Man, the X-Men, Hulk, Fantastic Four, and so many others.
And here are my top favorite Jewish characters who are celebrating with us in spirit:
#5 – Batwoman (Kate Kane)
Probably the newest Jewish superhero on the scene is the recently revamped Batwoman, known by day as Kate Kane. Kate attended the Military Academy for a while, but had to leave because she refused to deny and hide the fact that she is a lesbian. Kate moves back to Gotham to live with her stepmother, and, after Batman saves her from being robbed, she decides to take up crimefighting. Like Batman, she has no superpowers and instead relies on her weaponry and combat skills. We see that Kate is Jewish, as she celebrates Hannukah in the series 52; I admire Kane for her self-acceptance and I’m very glad that DC is making an effort to diversify its characters.
#4 – Sabra (Ruth Bat-Seraph)
Sabra holds the distinction of the first Israeli superhero; she’s a kickass, no-nonsense superlady who works for the Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service, though she was also on the Suicide Squad for a while. She made her debut in the pages of Hulk, and later in several issues of Suicide Squad. Sabra is named after the prickly pear fruit native to Israel (and slang for a native-born Israeli), is a mutant with superhuman stamina, agility, reflexes, and healing abilities. Like most heroes she is no stranger to tragedy; Sabra lost her young son in a terrorist attack, and she wasted no time (disobeying orders) bringing her son’s murderers to justice.
#3 – The Thing (Ben Grimm)
Ben’s exterior may be rocky, but he sure has a big heart, and it’s why he’s one of the most popular Marvel characters of all time. The iconic member of the Fantastic Four is also Jewish; his heritage has been made explicit only recently, but it has in fact been a part of him for much longer. The man who drew him first, Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzburg), incorporated his own past and personality into The Thing, and his Jewish identity as well; Kirby drew the picture above, and it even hung in his home when he was alive.
Of all the Jewish superheroes, Kitty is the first who was immediately identified as Jewish—in her first appearance she is seen wearing a Star of David necklace (see one of her first appearances here). Even though there are other Jewish superheroes out there, Kitty is probably the most well known and the most talked about. Kitty’s Jewish identity is very prominent when it comes to her personal life; one of the obstacles in her relationship with Colossus is that she considers herself a ‘devout’ Jew, while Piotr is an atheist. Regardless, when she believes he has died, she says Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) for him.
#1 – Magneto (Max Eisenhardt)
So if Kitty is so recognizable as a Jewish character, why is Magneto number one on my list? Well, first of all, I just like him better :) Second of all, I have great respect for Magneto, and the fact that his Jewish heritage plays such a pivotal role in his actions and beliefs as a villain, and recently a hero. He is perhaps the only comic character whose Jewishness plays a role in his identity as a hero as well. As a survivor of Auschwitz, Magneto has seen the very worst of mankind, which he believes will be repeated again if mutants sit around and do nothing. This has made him perhaps the most dimensional and sympathetic villains, though he has recently joined the X-Men–and proved his intentions by bringing Kitty back to life. I love Magneto’s ruthless determination, his unshakable commitment for his convictions (even though yes, sometimes his actions are evil), oh and the fact that he worked as a Nazi hunter for Israel. For a long time people speculated that Magneto was a gypsy, but Rivka’s excellent Magneto FAQ page bolsters the argument that he is in fact Jewish, as does the fantastic graphic novel about his experience during the Holocaust, Magneto: Testament.