אני שמח לבשר על פירסומו של המאמר האקדמאי הראשון על הספר שלי ושל אורי פינק "הגולם :סיפורה של סדרת קומיקס ( מודן 2003)המאמר המקיף מאוד נכתב בידי החוקר הישראלי אלון ראאב לאחר ראיונים ארוכים שקיים איתי ועם אורי פינק ופורסם לאחרונה בקובץ המאמרים באנגלית
האתר גאה לפרסם בפירסום בכורה בישראל את המאמר הלמדני המקיף והפרטני ביותר שנכתב מאז ומעולם על יצירת קומיקס ישראלית כלשהי ואחד המקיפים ביותר שנכתבו על יצירה ישראלית מכל סוג.
יש לקוות שמאמרים מחקריים נוספים מסוג זה יופיעו בעקבותיו בעברית ובשפות אחרות. .
Ben Gurion’s Golem and Jewish Lesbians: Subverting Hegemonic History in Two Israeli Graphic Novels
In the past decade a new wave of Israeli graphic artists has emerged, whose works address a range of issues (urban alienation, suicide, the appearance of new subcultures, class fissures, and the unrelenting violence between Israelis and Palestinians, among others). Among these developments, Eli Eshed and Uri Fink’s Hagolem: Sipuro shel comics Israeli (The Golem: The Story of an Israeli Comic) and Ilana Zeffren’s Sipur varod (Pink Story) have produced of the most accomplished and innovative graphic novels.
While one graphic novel focuses on a mythical superhero and the other on a young lesbian artist, they share a strong commitment to interrogating important Israeli historic and cultural events as well as myths, while shining their light on neglected identities and issues.
With a self-referential outlook, they employ drawings, montage, and collage to suggest that the story the novels’ tell is part of a world of outside influences, to be interpreted in a new way, forming new relationships. The Golem “plays” with the received story, the founding myths of the Israeli state and society, while Pink Story commemorates hitherto voiceless communities and offers a more intimate account of the individual’s sense of identity and belonging. United by their questioning of a variety of political icons and societal conventions, these works creatively probe the master Zionist story. That story, formulated over a century ago by politicians, educators, artists, and writers, is succinctly presented in Israel’s Declaration of Independence as an unbroken 4,000-year Jewish connection to the land and a divine claim to it, culminating in the establishment of the state and the creation of a new kind of society and individual, free from the shackles and deformities of the Diaspora. Against this narrative, both books demonstrate that Israeli history is not a single, monolithic thread with a redemptive trajectory, and that there is much that should be reconsidered. They accomplish this task with an intensely critical but ultimately affectionate approach, often accompanied by infectious humor.
In their mockumentary The Golem, Eshed and Fink’s conceit is the purported rediscovery of the most popular Israeli comics series of the past seventy years. With the musculature of the typical superhero and a featureless, bucket-shaped head with a Star of David on his brow, the Golem never fails to come to the rescue of his people whenever danger lurks, battling everyone from Yasser Arafat to space invaders. Created by a character named Uriel Reshef (continued posthumously by his three sons), the series, the reader is told, entertained and informed generations of Israeli children. Eshed and Fink, ardent fans, rescue it from oblivion, and in their history describe Reshef’s life and prolific output — both entirely fictional — as well as the Israel his series was created in and ultimately helped shape
Eli Eshed a detective of culture
. Eli Eshed,
self-described “cultural detective,” and Uri Fink, an artist and teacher, are highly regarded bastions of the Israeli comics scene. In newspaper articles, radio talks, and his books
Tarzan beeretz hakodesh: gilgulav shel melach hakofeem basafa haivrit (Tarzan in the Holy Land: The Transformations of the King of the Apes in the Hebrew Language)
and Metarzan vead Zbeng: Hasipur shel hasifrut hapopularit haivrit (From “Tarzan” to “Zbeng”: The Story of the Popular Literature in Israel), Eshed illuminates biblical mysteries, dime-store novels, and Hebrew science fiction.
The prolific Uri Fink created his first comic series, Sabraman, at the age of fifteen and is best known for his book Zbeng, which is popular among Israeli youth and was made into a TV series and a long line of successful commercial products.
He is also the creator of such characters as Super Schlumper and Fink! and the daily political strip Shabtai.
The Golem is a loving homage to the power and influence of comics, part of a recent examination of the form that includes the works of Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem.
One hundred and twenty-eight small squares on the book’s front and back covers provide a glimpse of the metamorphoses of the hero and his society, offering a taste of the stories and characters populating its pages: from a young and robust Ben Gurion ordering the Golem on a secret mission deep behind enemy lines to a contemporary Golem waving the two appendages of every self-respecting modern Israeli, a laptop and a cell phone. In the middle of the cover stands the Golem, a solid block ready to leap into action.
The book begins with Eshed’s fictitious statement revealing how he first encountered the series and how, like most Israelis who came of age in the late sixties and early seventies, he grew up on it, eagerly awaiting its weekly appearance so he could rush to buy it from the neighborhood stationery shop. Now as an adult, he finds old copies in a second-hand bookstore and is enthralled all over again, even as he is struck by the shortcomings of both the series and its creator.
The Golem is constructed as a chronological record, closely following the development of the series, the lives of its various editors and writers, and its reception. Interviews commenting on the work are included alongside photographs of the characters, line drawings, and reproductions of panels from the series. The book successfully blends historical events and people with the imaginary. Eshed adroitly presents the writing and speaking patterns, phrases, and styles of the various characters, and Fink has perfect pitch in creating the visual tone of each era, including early Zionist iconography, 1940s-style socialist realism, 1960s psychedelia, and contemporary advertising.
Fink re-creates the newspapers and journals of Israel across the decades, each with its unique style of graphic representation — primitive designs and fonts included — while interpolating characters into actual historical photos and paintings in a way that would make the best Stalinist artists proud. Eshed and Fink take images familiar to most Israelis and play with them. The authors’ success in mimicry can be seen in the fact that well-known literary critic Menachem Ben was fooled into believing that the series and its creator existed. An example of their technique is their use of the traditional Jewish New Year card, sold in street stands, that features religious or patriotic symbols. Here, a 1959 card displays the military’s Independence Day parade, tanks roaring, with a male paratrooper and gun-toting female soldier proudly marching beneath a large Israeli flag. Into this scene Fink interjects the Golem, an integral part of the action and of the new state (fig. 13.1).
The name “golem” naturally evokes the rich history of the many creatures that preceded this one. First appearing in Psalms 139:16 as golami, the word has been translated as “my unformed limbs” or “embryo.” In the Talmud, assembled in the fourth century CE, the word denotes “unshaped matter” or “unfinished creation.” We are told that “Rava b’ra gavra” (Rava created a man). The sage sent him to Rav Zeira, who tried to engage him in conversation, but this golem was unable to speak or show signs of thought. Rav Zeira then commanded him to return to dust. According to the eleventh-century biblical and Talmudic scholar Rashi, the golem was created by combining the letters of God’s name as revealed in the Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation), a seminal kabbalistic text written between the third and sixth centuries CE. Throughout Jewish lore, the golem has drawn comparisons to humans, as in a well-known passage from the Pirkei Avot: “Seven things apply to a golem and seven to a wise person. A wise person does not speak before one who is greater than he in wisdom or years; he does not interrupt his fellow; he is not rushed to respond; he asks relevant questions; he answers accurately; he discusses first things first and last things last; on what he did not hear, he says ‘I did not hear’ and he admits the truth. The opposite is true of the golem.” This designation of the creature as a boor is still retained in Yiddish as leymener geylem (a clay golem) and in modern Hebrew, where the word refers to someone stupid and clumsy.
The figure of the Golem has inspired tales, works of art, films, plays, and musical compositions, the most famous centering on the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Loew, who in sixteenth-century Prague created a protector for the city’s Jews. In the past decade, several Israeli artists have added their interpretations of the myth. These include Ido Shemi, whose art exhibition Shomrey Israel (Guardians of Israel) brings the creature together with a soccer fan; Rami Dotan and Yasmin Even, who created musical tributes; and Sarha Blau, whose Shomer lev haadama (Guardian of the Earth’s Heart) envisions two golems, one created by an orthodox woman in contemporary Tel Aviv and the other by her grandmother in the Warsaw Ghetto. The grandmother invokes a golem to fight the Nazis, while the young heroine hopes her Golem will satisfy her sexual needs, which are unmet by Israeli men.
Eshed and Fink’s golem, like the title character in Woody Allen’s classic film Zelig, has the knack of appearing at important events in his nation’s history. These include the many conflicts, starting with the riots of 1936-39 and continuing with the revolt against the British, the war of 1948, and other bloodletting culminating in the second Intifada
. For example, on a tattered page of a “1940 issue,” printed in black and poorly registered blue, a group of young Israeli hikers exploring their ancestral homeland are stopped at gunpoint by a British soldier, in Khaki and handlebar mustache, and his Arab ally, broadly drawn with a hooked nose and dagger unsheathed. Suddenly the Golem appears, shielding the innocent teens from the enemy’s fire and chasing the attackers away. The Golem proclaims that wherever there is inequality and a threat to Jews, there he will be.
An ostensibly 1960 issue portrays (this time in full color), a terrorist siege at the state’s nuclear reactor. One of the hostages, a young man exposed to radiation, metamorphoses into the Golem, raising the prospect that in an extraordinary situation anyone could become the Golem.
The page is filled with dynamic close-ups, and the compositions contrast each character’s vantage point. The dominant colors are yellow and brown, but the heroic blue of the young man’s shirt has foreshadowed his transformation into the Golem. Throughout the series, indelible portraits of Israeli society are conveyed through the inclusion of particular politicians, cultural figures and media stars — richly emblematic of their times. David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres, and Ariel Sharon all get their due. Always accompanied by the Golem, they are summarized in a few lines, their defining actions those that were supported at the time by most Israelis, actions that are still described in textbooks.
On a cover representing 1966, the Golem and Ariel Sharon burst into action. Sharon, cradling an Uzi with the Golem behind him, charges forward with a raised fist. The issue’s title, Hagolem eem Arik basela Haadom (The Golem with Arik at the Red Rock), is emblazoned in a starburst at the bottom of the page. The background is a low-resolution image of Petra, a Nabataen city in southern Jordan carved into the rock, which until the Six-Day War attracted young Israeli men, as reaching it was viewed as proof of one’s courage and manhood. Sharon’s head is bandaged dashingly, an allusion to the famous photograph of him, taken seven years later during the Yom Kippur War, when his head was grazed by an Egyptian bullet.
Events in the series are often carried to fantastic extremes. In Hagolem matzil et Megilat Haatzmaoot (The Golem Saves the Declaration of Independence Scroll), the hero single-handedly stops gangs of Arab marauders aided by a djinn, who are trying to break into the gathering of Jewish leaders at Tel Aviv and prevent Ben Gurion from declaring the birth of the new state. On the cover, the Golem unveils the nation’s new flag, posed with hand on hip, his arms the size of tree-trunks (plate 8). The colors of his cape correspond with those of the flag. Behind him we see the well-known photograph of the middle-aged and elderly leaders gathered on the podium. Their rigidity and formal attire contrast with his bursting energy and vitality. As a creature of fantasy, the Golem interjects into Israeli history a sense of playfulness and a powerful note of wish-fulfillment. Later, the Golem receives the first prime minister’s thanks and is invited to add his signature to those of the founders of the nation. When asked who he really is, he replies, “I am every Hebrew youth fighting for our ancestors’ home, every fighter risking his life for the independence of the nation.”
More often than not, Eshed and Fink do tend to ignore controversial actions. Thus Sharon is praised for his leadership of commando Unit 101 — but the Sabra and Shatila massacres go unmentioned. Similarly, the authors mostly ignore unsavory personality traits. So while Sharon’s courage in battle is lauded, the qualities that inspired the title of Uzi Benziman’s Lo otser beadom (The Man Who Does Not Stop at the Red Light), an Israeli biography, are nowhere to be found. (This exclusion of negative traits does not, however, extend to Rabin’s rumored fondness for alcohol which the authors gleefully portray). In addition to the Israeli prime ministers and generals, we find other public figures, including Isser Harel, who led the Secret Service and received respect and adulation for commanding Adolf Eichmann’s capture. Here Harel, a supposed neighbor of Reshef, is gently mocked, drawn as a big-eared and drab bureaucrat who blesses the Golem’s plan to find King Achav’s lost scrolls, who is friendly to children but delights in spying on his neighbors. This portrayal is in accord with recent revelations of Harel’s use of extra-legal measures to spy on political opponents of the Ben Gurion government as well as on average Israeli citizens.
Throughout the book we also encounter well-known literary and cultural personalities, some appearing under their own names, others disguised. Among the former are Israel Weisler (also known as “Puchu”) — a beloved children’s author who embodied the spirit and values of the Palmach generation, with their emphasis on courage, sacrifice for the good of the collective, and mischief. Other writers mentioned include Leah Goldberg, Avraham Even Shoshan, David Grossman, and Doron Rosenblaum.
Among the disguised personalities are Yakov Churgin, the prolific writer who appears here as Yaakov Moked, the editor of a magazine for which Reshef briefly works. Churgin is today a forgotten figure, but in the early years of the state his historical works for children, many set during ancient Jewish revolts, enjoyed critical and popular success, as they evoked a heroic past. Most cultural figures are referenced in the text only, except for Pinchas Sadeh, a writer of the artist’s struggle against society and a re-teller of Chassidic tales who for many years, as “Amatzya Yariv,” earned his living writing comics and pulp fiction, and who is shown in a passport photo. We see also photos, taken perhaps from historical archives, that express through clothes and activities the spirit of the period, without connection to the men and women mentioned.
One exception is David Tidhar, known as the first Hebrew detective, an immensely popular recounter of his own adventures and a compiler of pioneer biographies. Several issues are devoted to Tidhar, who is drawn in the tradition of the American private eye, as a figure lurking in a city alley, gun in hand.
Politicians are sometimes drawn looking pensive, like Zeev Jabotinsky, leader of the pre-state right-wing bloc, but mostly strike dynamic poses, like general and politician Moshe Dayan. On an August 1967 cover, Dayan flies through the air to pound Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, his cape evoking Superman.
Another disguised writer in the book is the “creator” of The Golem, Uriel Reshef. According to Eshed, the name Reshef is the Hebrew equivalent of the German word Fink but no one served as a direct model.
writer Shraga Gafni a model for the Golem creator
However, it is impossible not to think of Shraga Gafni. Better known by his pen names Avner Carmeli and On Sarig, Gafni was one of the most popular writers for youth during the first four decades of the state of Israel.
His many book series include tales of the invisible boy Dani Din, , and the star soccer players Alon Levi and Rafi Givon from Hasportaeem hatzeereem (The Young Athletes). The characters often risk their lives in the service of the nation, and the books contain many of Gafni’s extreme nationalistic ideas, commented on recently by critics. As noted earlier, following Reshef’s death, his three sons take over the publishing franchise, but, bickering over ideology and finances, they run it into the ground. The sons are clearly representative of pivotal figures of Israeli society: the hot-headed settler, the glib advertising macher (mover and shaker), and the tortured artist.
In conversation, Fink alerted me to their real-life models. Michael, the fanatical settler, was inspired by Michael Netzer
. Born in the United States to a Jewish mother and Arab father as Mike Nassar, Netzer moved to Israel and created the comic-book character Uri On (the name means “my light and strength”), who excelled at fighting any Arab or Jew who dared to stand in the path of rebuilding the Third Temple. The second son, Erez, is a fast talker who clearly resembles Erez Tal, star of Israeli fluff radio and television shows modeled on American hits.
The third son is Yirmi, an avant-garde artist modeled on the graphic designer and comic-book creator Yirmi Pinkus
. Each son creates a competing version of the Golem according to his own interests and values. Michael produces Hagolem neged mezimat Oslo (The Golem Against the Oslo Plot), in which Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is described as traitor intent on destroying the state, and readers are urged to deal with him by any means necessary. The Golem is drawn ready to pounce on Rabin, shown wild-haired and holding a bottle and a half-empty glass. After taking care of the Israeli leader, the Golem attacks a giant djinn and a timid-looking dove carrying an olive branch in its beak.
(This episode contrasts sharply with an earlier issue in which Rabin, a young commander of the 1948 war, is saved from Arab fighters’ bullets by the quick intervention of his jeep driver–the Golem).
Along with Israel’s many wars and skirmishes, we encounter societal conflicts such as the hostility between the Israeli political right and left, which stretches back to the pre-state days, as in an issue from the late 1930s, where the moderate leadership of the Yishuv is attacked for not taking a militant stand against the British occupiers. Such allusions are sometimes achieved by direct mention of the “traitors” in the text and sometimes by drawings. In an April 1939 issue, the plot unfolds during the days of the Second Temple. A young fighter is ready to blow himself up with a mysterious powder as long as he can take with him some Roman soldiers and their “traitorous” Jewish supporters.
Israel-Diaspora relations are also portrayed. In a story from the 1950s, the days of mass immigration and “the ingathering of the tribes of Israel,” the Golem travels to the far corners of the Earth in search of the lost Jewish communities. In Japan he finds the tribe of Naftali, and in Kazakhstan, the sons and daughters of Asher, who help him obtain secrets of the Soviet space program. After overcoming agents sent by Nasser, and anti-Semites in many locales, he leads the lost tribes to the promised land. Each tribe possesses a powerful treasure, including the Ark of the Covenant, King Solomon’s chair, and Moses’ staff, and gladly returns them to their true owner — the new state of Israel.
In one story, the Golem is forced to fight “Mau-Mau,” who is depicted as a black, spear-wielding savage with a large bone stuck through his hair. Elsewhere, he battles a giant and succeeds in snatching his medallion, a large Star of David. At that, a heavenly voice announces that the spirit of King Solomon is contained within, having waited 3,000 years for a Jewish hero to release it and unify the twelve tribes.
Throughout the evolution of the series and the many adventures of the Golem, we experience changing Israeli attitudes and values. The first comics, set in the 1930s, featured Yoska Tractor, a precursor to the Golem. By day the hero works on a kibbutz and at night fights marauding Arabs. In later ones, created by Reshef’s son Yirmi, the hero is dressed in suit and tie, wears fashionable sunglasses, and occupies a condominium in one of Tel Aviv’s new glass-and-steel towers. His place is furnished with a couch, an abstract expressionist painting, and a houseplant. Tired of fighting for his people, this yuppie Golem has artistic aspirations and talks of his need for expressing his “inner self” but is interrupted by the crass calls of commerce and the need to create catchy advertising jingles to make a living. He sleeps with a beautiful woman and is surrounded by gadgets, but sex and money fail to fill the emptiness at the heart of his existence.
These developments artfully mirror tectonic shifts in Israeli society. In the pre-state years, the ideal was the New Hebrew, a pioneer, often a kibbutznik, who milked cows during the day, guarded the settlement at night, and still managed to dance around the fire and sing shirey moledet (songs of love to the land). In the materialistic and individualistic present, the hero to emulate is the start-up entrepreneur, the star athlete, or the fashion model. The changes of values, attitudes, and behaviors are reflected in all aspects of life, whether the world of sports, culture, or politics. A succinct manifestation of these changes in values is exemplified by the actions of Israeli General Staff chief Dan Chalutz (his name means “pioneer”) on July 12, 2006. After three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by the Hizzbaleh, an event that served as the pretext for the second Lebanon war, Chalutz still made time to call his broker and instruct him to sell stocks.
It must be noted that while The Golem does an excellent job of re-creating historical figures and events, it does so through stereotypical portrayals of women, Sephardic Jews, and especially Palestinians. (This is hardly surprising as, until the last decade, women were underrepresented as artists in Israeli comics, and when they appeared as characters it was often along fairly predictable lines.) Examples include descriptions of Reshef’s wife, Mira Bloom, as a “homely woman” (oddly the two accompanying photographs show her as a handsome woman) and the character Juliette Chanoch, the “man-hating” feminist illustrator who works on the comic for a brief time and dabbles in witchcraft. The main female character in the book is Lilith, who serves as the hero’s sidekick, and her portrayal is more complex. In Jewish lore, Lilith occupies a special place as queen of the demons, snatcher of babies, and seductress of men. Here, with her exaggerated breasts and buttocks, she is a femme fatale and a fighter.
Lilith also serves as an extension of the myth of the brave and beautiful gun-toting Israeli woman soldier, which is so popular in the literature of the state of Israel as a symbol of the new state and a statement about female liberation. The reality, however, was different, as most women served in the military as secretaries or parachute folders, and their entry into border patrol units and the ranks of pilots is a very recent one, preceded by court battles to ensure equality and counter the pervasive atmosphere of sexual discrimination and harassment.
As for Sephardic Jews, this group was long ignored or marginalized in Israeli children’s literature, especially in canonic stories such as Hasamba, Yigal Mosenzon’s multivolume series starring a group of youngsters fighting internal and external enemies under the command of blond-haired and blue-eyed Yaron Zehavi, while the Sephardic kids are relegated to minor roles or doomed to die. Regrettably The Golem, preserves this traditional marginalization. As for Palestinians (and all other Arabs), though portrayed with some frequency, they also do not fare well. One of the eternal enemies is the evil Djinn, raised from the lamp in which he dwells by a series of murderous leaders and fighters, starting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. In another issue, Nasser vechanit hagoral (Nasser and the Lance of Fate), the Egyptian leader is holding a pitchfork in hell, declaring himself Hitler’s heir and vowing to destroy the Golem with black magic. Arafat, with his trademark sunglasses and beard stubble, also appears, one arm strangling the terrified Lilith, the other aiming a cutlass at her exposed breast. Other Arabs are presented as dangerous enemies intent on the murder of all Israelis, and are drawn as caricatures with hooked noses and hateful eyes. This echoes the portrayal of Arabs in Israeli works for children in the early years of the state. In light of the many literary works that suggest new models for Jewish-Arab interaction, this stereotypical portrayal is disappointing.
The book’s whirlwind tour through the Israeli political and cultural landscape raises questions about its politics and its stand on the issues that divide the country. Eshed and Fink’s planned weekly Web strip about the Golem and Lilith is aimed at educating Jewish teenagers in Israel and abroad whose knowledge of Israeli history and Judaism is limited. According to Eshed, “The series will be an exaggerated and ironic version, mythic if you wish, of the state of Israel.” Does the book, too, share this goal? Is there a clearly thought-out political agenda? Or is it, as sociologist and cultural historian Oz Almog wrote about Fink’s earlier comic Zbeng, a work that is ideologically hard to pin down, open to various interpretations?
According to Fink, “The main role of my comic series Zbeng was to entertain, but there were also many political messages, including being pro-peace, pro the Oslo peace agreements, pro openness to the world, and also against religious control and against all attempts to compel people to be other than they are.” The show’s line of merchandise included a school diary which contained imaginary holidays and memorial days, such as “a day of mourning to mark Netanyahu’s rise to power.” The progressive ideas and jibes, as well as an openly gay character, elicited letters of protest from religious and nationalistic readers.
On the other hand, Fink’s later work Sabraman neged haSatan (Sabraman Against Satan) led to accusations from leftist readers that he was flirting with fascism and glorifying power. These divergent readings inevitably result from the fact that Zbeng, as Almog has noted, mocks sacred cows of all political stripes (including the character of a “politically correct” peace protester ready to go on strike at the flimsiest excuse) and expresses an anti-ideological attitude prevalent among secular Israeli youth, who view cultural battles and grand political declamations with cynicism and suspicion. The Golem reinforces this attitude.
It is interesting to compare the approach to Israeli history in The Golem with that of two recent American graphic novels of diametrically opposed viewpoints, Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Marv Wolfman and Mario Ruiz’ Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel. Sacco based his stories on what he heard during his sojourn among the Palestinians of Gaza. The few Israelis that Sacco included are one-dimensional, highly negative figures. In contrast, in Homeland, authors Wolfman and Ruiz, president of the evangelical Christian Valor Comics, depict the Jewish right to the Land of Israel – from God granting the land of Canaan to Abraham until the present day – as a paean to classic Zionist historiography. The two American books wear their political sentiments on their sleeves, and there can be no mistaking their agendas;
in contrast, The Golem is far more ambiguous. It contains political elements and critical observations, but goes beyond the old political divisions and ideological certainties. In simplifying and banalizing momentous historical events such as the creation of the state and figures such as Hitler, The Golem opens these topics for re-interpretation and a more conscious look from our new vantage point. The way Eshed and Fink manufacture the cultural fabric of each era helps awaken the reader to his or her own contemporary perspective. “Our goal with the book was to present various mythologies of the state but not necessarily to smash them,” Eshed has stated. At times it is difficult to determine what the authors think of divisive issues such as relations between secular and religious Jews, the growing economic inequality in Israeli society, or the question of the occupied territories. They seem to enjoy the process of discovery and sharing their enthusiasm with readers, wishing to entertain and present comics as a normative cultural creation, albeit one that canonic culture has until recently viewed as inferior.
Where there is criticism, it is presented with irony, allowing the reader to reach his or her own conclusions. This open-ended quality and lack of dogmatic judgment are perhaps what is most sophisticated about The Golem, considering the highly polarized society (culturally and politically) that inspired it.
Between 1977, the year of the political mahapach (overturn) that ended the Labor movement’s hegemony and brought to power the political right, and 1993, the year the Oslo agreements were signed and the prospect of peace with the Palestinians seemed a reality, well-known literary scholar Gershon Shaked produced his voluminous survey of Hebrew literature. Taking 1880 as his departure point and continuing to 1980, he presented the vast body of literature as a Zionist project, an ideologically-coherent literature, which mostly followed the Zionist metanarrative. While there were always writers and works outside the national norms, it is in the past decade that voices countering the accepted story have proliferated and gained popularity
. The Golem and Pink Story are two such voices. Their heroes belong to the new Israeli reality. The Golem began as the model of Zionist manhood, the ultimate sabra committed to his nation, risking his life for its survival. But at the end of his journey, he is not willing to risk his materialistic existence for any ideal. While he lives the hedonistic life of a Tel Aviv professional, he might as well be living anywhere in the world. Zeffren’s personal story and that of the Israeli gay and lesbian community are of individuals who until recently were mostly viewed as sick, ostracized from any historical account worth preserving and telling. Now, however, these individuals are moving steadily into acceptance by the new Israeli society, which more willingly pays attention to various lifestyles, personal choices, and perspectives.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Israeli Wax Museum served as an accurate barometer of the status of Israel’s cultural heroes. Located in the country’s tallest building, the Shalom Tower in Tel Aviv, the museum’s pantheon re-created well-known personages and scenes from the peoples’ life. Side by side they dwelled: Herzl on his Basel hotel balcony during the first Zionist conference, uttering his dictum (about creating a Jewish state) “If you will it, it is not a dream,” and Tzvika Pik, Israel’s first glam rock star, androgynous in his look and high-pitched singing; General Dayan, triumphantly entering the Lion’s Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, and footballer Mordechai Spiegler, scoring with one of his legendary “banana” kicks. The museum is now closed, its wax figures languishing in a dusty warehouse or perhaps, like the original Golem, returned to their elements. Eshed, Fink, and Zeffren would have approved of the colliding images of these icons and their stories, and their importance in expressing and shaping the nation’s consciousness of itself. In its place, Israeli graphic novels like The Golem and Pink Story journey through Israeli history and society, meshing high culture with popular culture, reconciling army leaders and drag queens. Along the way, they create new and exciting perspectives on a turbulent country.
Yasmin Even’s song about the Golem can be heard on http://www.multiverse.co.il/kaboom/golem/Main1.htm (accessed October 26, 2007)