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(Photo address of Leibel Estrin)

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We alive in agitative times for comic-book fans. Batman, Spider-Man, and Avengers movies rake in box-office gold; alike Marvel’s abstruse Guardians of the Galaxy (a raccoon marksman! a acquainted tree!) will accept a big-budget blur admission on Aug. 1. Mild-mannered Activity With Archie afflicted up fizz this summer by accepting its titular actualization dead off by a homophobic gunman. Thor is actuality re-introduced as a woman in banana books this October, while Captain America is actuality replaced by his atramentous accomplice Sam (a.k.a. The Falcon), who will don the iconic red-white-and-blue clothing himself.

Comics accept afflicted with the times, but they’ve consistently fabricated for arresting storytelling. And, as Tablet has ahead discussed, best of the aboriginal superheroes were created by Jews and arranged with Jewish subtext—brainiac/wimp persecution, the charge to “pass,” the control of hidden strength, the appetite to do tikkun olam and fix a burst world. Jews created the aboriginal banana book (Max “Charlie” Gains, ne Ginsburg, produced Acclaimed Funnies, a accumulation of bi-weekly strips awash as a book in 1933), the aboriginal clear atypical (Will Eisner’s A Contract With God, which featured Orthodox Jews), the aboriginal Banana Con, and the aboriginal comic-book direct-distribution network. Check out Danny Fingeroth’s Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics and the Creation of the Superhero for a added all-encompassing overview.

Personally, I accept a somewhat clashing accord to banana books. I’m absorbed by after art as a way of cogent stories, and as a aloft ballad and belief major, I like the history and accepted capacity of quest, loss, and isolation. But I’m affronted at the sexism, misogyny, and applesauce on affectation in so abounding superhero stories. I tend to adopt addition comics by women that comedy with brand conventions and are funny and personal. (Oy, I gotta name names? Lynda Barry, Phoebe Gloeckner, Roberta Gregory, Diane Noomin, Mimi Pond, and Vanessa Davis, to name aloof a few.)

There’s a saying, “start as you intend to continue.” And I anticipate my ancient acknowledgment to banana books set the accent for what I still adore (and appetite to accord to my children) today. The aboriginal banana book I anytime apprehend was Mendy and the Golem, an Orthodox Jewish kids’ comic. It was cool and funny; its gender backroom were (perhaps surprisingly) evolved; it had bags of sly pop-cultural references. And it was alone accustomed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who knew a hasty bulk about comics.


I bethink the action that greeted the actualization of Mendy and the Golem in the bistro of Providence Hebrew Day Academy in the aboriginal 1980s. We went nuts. PHDS was a austere place. We advised austere Jewish texts. Pop ability was frowned upon. But actuality we were accustomed to apprehend a banana abounding of jokes, adventure, and silliness. The issues were fatigued with the rounded, bubble-letter-filled, Ziggy-esque appearance of banana art accepted in the backward ‘70s and aboriginal ‘80s. Anniversary affair had a adventure about ancestors Mendy and Rivkie and their pet golem, Sholem. They aghast beasts rustlers at the O.K./O.U. Corral (get it? O.K. and O.U., two altered designations of kashrut?), battled the angry apprentice Oy Vader, and ashamed Captain Video, a bent administrator who controlled children’s minds through video games. In accession to belief about Talmudic sages and facts about Judaism, the books included appearance pages, connect-the-dots, mazes, pun-filled Q&As with Mendy, and word-find puzzles (one installment, in which you had to amphitheater the names of adequate animals, included the options “Chevrolet” and “enchilada”).

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I can’t anticipate of any added absolutely fun religious Jewish kids’ media from my years at day school. Today, though, there’s a ton of able beat and antic apprenticeship out there in a array of media—Orthodox Jewry, and Chabad/Lubavitch in particular, has been abundant at application the Internet to its fullest: There are endless music videos online, downloadable Passover appearance pages, and alike dreidel apps for smartphones. But Mendy was a absolute trailblazer.

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I tracked bottomward Leibel Estrin, the aboriginal biographer for Mendy. He now works primarily as a clergyman for a supermax bastille in Pennsylvania and for the Aleph Institute—a religious alignment that provides amusing and airy casework to the aggressive and confined bodies and their families. Back Mendy began in 1981, though, Estrin was a freelance copywriter. A Chabad association baton alleged Rabbi Shneur Zalmen Zirkind had the abstraction of announcement Jewish ethics to kids application a comic-book format. Zirkind approached a affluent businessman, Rabbi Yaakov Pinson, about allotment the project. Pinson assassin Estrin, and Estrin brought in artisan Dovid Sears. Sears and Estrin were both baalei teshuvah, bodies who’d become added religious as adults. Both were additionally accomplished in boilerplate pop culture. In fact, Estrin had advised it in the country’s best acclaimed bookish affairs in accepted culture, at Bowling Green State University.

Estrin afraid he didn’t accept acceptable moral ascendancy or religious backpack for the gig. “I admired the abstraction of allowance to acquaint mitzvahs in a non-threatening, non-didactic way, but I didn’t anticipate I was qualified,” he told me in a contempo buzz interview. “But they said they’d accept aggregate advised by rabbis and agents to accomplish abiding the agreeable was kosher.” Indeed, the Mendy aggregation submitted every affair for approval by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), Chabad’s longtime leader.

With his background, Estrin knew from superheroes. But, he told me, he didn’t appetite to actualize one. “I did not appetite kids jumping off couches screaming, ‘I’m a NinJew!’ ” he recalled. Then one day, sitting on the train, Estrin had a brainstorm: He’d actualize a babyish golem, a hero instead of a monster, who would advice two approved kids do mitzvot. As a baby, the golem wasn’t scary, and he was as abundant a albatross as a help. Comedy gold.

Estrin additionally capital to focus on Rivkie as abundant as her brother Mendy. “People attending at yiddishkeit as a male-dominated way of life,” he told me, “and I capital to affect aloft anybody that it’s a team-dominated way of life. Anybody has roles and responsibilities.” Mendy and Rivkie’s mother is apparent acclimation a car in one issue; in another, she rides off with the menfolk to save the world.

The aboriginal absorbed was for the banana to serve as beat for contrary kids. “But we begin there was a need—or at atomic an audience—in the religious association for commodity that looked somewhat like non-Jewish stuff, but with Jewish content,” Estrin said. “Instead of yelling, ‘I appetite Batman!’ they’d accomplish do with this.”

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Estrin emphasized that Mendy was not an accustomed assembly of Chabad but an absolute attack to abutment the Rebbe’s advance of Jewish education. (“People articular Mendy as advancing from Chabad, but we had no affiliation—we were aloof a apart cannon on a rolling deck, hopefully acicular in the appropriate direction,” Estrin told me.) The alternation ran from 1981 to 1986, encompassing 19 issues, anniversary with a book run of 5,000. Estrin estimates that 80 percent were broadcast in the tri-state area, but Mendy got aflame belletrist from kids in Cleveland, Miami, and Providence, too.

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Despite the comic’s acceptance and the Rebbe’s allowance of approval, not anybody was thrilled. “Some of the advertent association acquainted this was one footfall aloft heresy,” Estrin recalled. “Especially back my characters were not serious. The abstraction of adorning and personalizing sages, as against to glorifying them above recognition, seemed to them flippant.”

Eventually, Chabad came out with its own clearly accustomed banana strip, “The Adventures of Yaakov and Yosef,” which ran in its own children’s magazine, Moshiach Times. It was fatigued by adept artisan Joe Kubert, who did the civil comics “Sgt. Rock,” “Hawkman,” and “Tarzan.” Moshiach Times was chargeless to audiences, and Mendy amount money … and afore long, Mendy folded.

It’s not hasty that Chabad addled out on its own. The Rebbe was consistently adeptness about extensive American Jews steeped in pop culture. He had a cogent civil education, belief algebraic and aesthetics at the Sorbonne and the University of Berlin. And according to Joseph Telushkin’s book Rebbe, he knew from comics. Shortly afterwards the Rebbe accustomed in America on one of the actual aftermost commuter ships to get out of Europe during the Holocaust (the Serpa Pinta, which larboard Lisbon in 1941), he was appointed to run the amusing service, educational, and advertisement capacity of Chabad. In 1942, he told the editor of Talks and Tales, the Chabad children’s magazine, that “Curiosity Corner,” a cavalcade of little facts about Judaism “zol oys’zehn vee Ripley”—should attending like Ripley. (As in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.) In 1951, he appropriate that Talks and Tales acquaint a alternating adventure-story hero to advise moral lessons, and “ess zol oys’zehn vee Dick Tracy”—he should attending like Dick Tracy. (Rabbi Jack Abramovitz, the Torah Agreeable Editor for the Orthodox Union as able-bodied as a comic-book fan, wrote a alluring allotment for the O.U. about the history of the use of comics in Orthodox education, pointing out that Christian publishers accept continued done similarly, with efforts like banty tracts and licensing Archie characters for a banana about Christian acceptance and values.)

Mendy was abeyant until 2002, back the banana book was active by Tani Pinson, the son of the aboriginal publisher. Rather than a goofy, funny educational tool, the new adventure was envisioned as a erect action-adventure comic, abundant added able and able (and conventional), after the educational focus. To do the art, Pinson assassin comics fable Stan Goldberg. Goldberg, who was inducted into the National Cartoonists Society Hall of Fame in 2012, formed on “Spider-Man,” “Fantastic Four,” and “Ironman,” but is best accepted for Archie Comics, area he drew 250 after issues starting in the mid-1960s. (In the admirable attitude of comic-book publishers alleviative comic-book creators badly, he was affected out in 2011.)

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Goldberg laughed, canonizing the challenges of cartoon an Orthodox comic. “I had to watch myself,” he told me, “making abiding the brim was beneath the knee and Mommy and Daddy weren’t captivation easily back they were walking.” Goldberg formed on a circumstantial bi-weekly “fun page” starring Mendy that was amalgamated in 40 Jewish newspapers in North America and Australia. “I anticipate we did a acceptable job,” he said. But he wasn’t assertive that Mendy banana books were a acute bread-and-butter move, what with the vagaries of administration and sales. “I admired the newspaper,” he said. “It was puzzles, it was ‘find the bagel,’ it talked about Jewish holidays and accomplished Hebrew words. I had a Zayde who apprehend the Forward, and we kids sat with him while he read. I admired the abstraction of creating commodity a grandfathering could allotment with his grandchildren.”

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But Pinson absolutely capital a banana book. So, Goldberg gave up the aesthetic captain to Ernie Colón, who formed on “Casper the Friendly Ghost”, “Richie Rich,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Green Lantern,” as able-bodied as the official Anne Frank House clear biography. Still, the revamped Mendy lasted alone a few issues, affection of the artwork notwithstanding.

Today, Mendy is in limbo. Estrin is alive on a book alleged The Wisdumb of Sholom the Golem, a ascent on Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Chabad runs added comics on its website. But the aboriginal adequate banana book has had abiding impact. Estrin acicular me to Affected Gan Israel, the Lubavitcher movement’s summer camp, founded by the Rebbe in 1957, area Mendy and the Golem (the aboriginal version) was the affair for aftermost year’s Color War. Orthodox schools still use Mendy in their curricula. “In an age of clear and hyper-realistic violence,” Estrin said, “there’s commodity about chastity and applesauce that bodies of all ages acquisition refreshing.”


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