Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
When Cartoons Make Judaism Real
Megillas Esther comes to life in a new graphic novel
We live in world of rich visual imagery. Newspapers and magazines have incredible color photos, and there are endless movies and television shows and YouTube videos. Getting texts from thousands of years ago to speak to us, and especially to the younger generation, is a challenge.
When The Prince of Egypt came out 25 years ago, I refused to watch it. I felt that our history should not be trivialized in a cartoon. But many years later when I did watch it, I was struck by its immense power (and how while there were some inaccuracies and inappropriate elements, it also brought some important Torah insights to the fore). The fact is that pictures, even cartoon pictures, bring things to life. (Though I am looking forward to the day when digital art and AI will make it possible to produce fully lifelike pictures.)
It’s therefore wonderful to see the new graphic novel Megillas Esther, published by Koren. The entire megillah appears in English translation in comic format, with the Hebrew text on the facing page. Children who only know the story of Esther from school and shul will find it absolutely absorbing. In addition, whereas Jewish girls are generally given relatively few heroes of their gender to admire, this megillah presents Esther as a superhero, quite literally, with a Magen David on her chest as she heroically rises to the occasion of risking her life for her people. And check out this page, showing the future that Esther stood to miss out upon for her family if they were lost to Judaism:
While the graphic novel Megillah is really just for children, the same cannot be said for Koren’s outstanding graphic novel hagaddah, which I reviewed a few years ago. In fact, while children will undoubtedly enjoy using it (and it presents the Four Sons more appropriately as being the Four Children - with two of them being girls), I don’t even think that most children would be able to grasp the signficance of much of the artwork. But it’s a real treat for adults, especially those of us who remember the struggle for Soviety Jewry.
The Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel is amazingly creative in terms of how it takes the concept of Bechol dor v'dor - that every generation should see itself as being part of the Exodus - and makes it come to life, by interspersing the artwork of the Exodus story with other episodes from Jewish history of persecution and salvation. There is an ongoing storyline about a Jew keeping his Jewish identity in Russia and eventually making aliyah which is told in several different sections interspersed throughout. And I love the picture for Avadim hayinu which depicts how it would look if we were still enslaved to Pharaoh today - in office cubicles under an Egyptian taskmaster! I keep discovering new things in it, such as the part about our not being masters of our own fate being illustrated by the George Washington Bridge!
But my favorite page is the full-page picture illustrating how everyone should see themselves as having left Egypt. It's a selfie taken by someone walking through the Yam Suf, and behind him you can see countless famous people from Jewish history. There's Rambam and Rabbi Sacks, and also Natan Sharansky and Ilan Ramon and Ben-Gurion and Albert Einstein and many others.
In previous years I’ve only remembered to mention the Koren Graphic Novel Haggadah after Pesach, so I’m please that the Megillah helped me remember it now! You can order it online here (remember, it’s always better to buy direct from the publisher than from Amazon).
Rationalist Judaism is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.