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Rivka

Rabbi Weinstein's article: LAST MEN STANDING

Rabbi Weinstein asked me to post this a month and a half ago, and I had all kinds of computer problems and other problems, but that really is no excuse. It's an excellent article, especially from a Jewish point of view.

I note a lot of interviews recently about the Singer SUPERMAN movie, describing Superman as a "Christ like" figure. Bryan Singer himself called Superman "Moses" -- or a Moses-like figure. Actually Superman's story is a lot like the archetypical myths found in many ancient cultures (that of the baby cast adrift on the water, who grows up to become a hero).

Recently I watched the super-hero program on the History Channel, where Stan Lee himself, of all people, compared the X-Men to "Christ-like figures" because they continue to try and help people who hate and fear them. (Try living here in West Virginia, Stan -- the fanatical Christians here are the ones with the most hate and fear.)

This article rather looks at the X-Men as metaphors for the Jewish experience, as well as the experience of other minorities, who are feared and hated for being different from the "norm."

(And Rabbi Weinstein's book, Up, Up, and Oy Vey! is quite good, as well, with lots of research and interviews.)

Also, the article was written just before the movie opened.





Last Men Standing

Simcha Weinstein
“The Comic Book Rabbi”


The 2000 movie X-Men and its smash 2003 sequel proved that comic book sagas with complex storylines and characters are still relevant in today’s world. This summer, the uncanny mutants are back with X-Men: The Last Stand.

Details about this big budget blockbuster are closely guarded industry secrets, but a few tantalizing spoilers have leaked. Before we get into that, a bit of background for the uninitiated...

The X-Men movies are based on the comic book series launched by writer Stan Lee and illustrator Jack Kirby in 1963. The scenario is deceptively simple: an overabundance of the "X gene" has caused random mutations, spawning a race of superhumans. These powerful mutants are treated as outcasts by ordinary humans, who view them with suspicion -- and who wouldn’t be afraid of strange looking individuals with names like Beast, Cyclops and Professor X?

In other words, the mutants are victims of bigotry, just like outsiders through the ages. The X-Men are even divided among themselves. The telepathic Professor Charles Francis Xavier is headmaster of the School for Mutants, where the X-Men learn to develop their strange powers for the good of society. However, a minority of disgruntled mutants, led by the enigmatic anti-hero Magneto, threaten to wipe out humankind.

The X-Men series is not the story of a single hero, dynamic duo or fantastic foursome, but of an entire race of exceptional beings. Kirby and Lee were likely inspired by the experiences of their own race, the Jewish people. (Although Stan Lee claims he created the mutation storyline to save him from having to invent a new origin for every character). Like the comic book mutants, the Jews were persecuted everywhere they tried to settle, and treated as misunderstood scapegoats. The Professor instructs his X-Men to keep their true identities hidden; likewise, Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) and Kirby (Jacob Kurtzbert) altered their Jewish names to gain acceptance within American society.

Jewish themes in the X-Men comics really came to the fore in the 1980s, after Jewish writer Chris Claremont took over the series. One of his cleverly crafted back-stories depicted Magneto as a Holocaust survivor who first met Professor X in Israel, when both men worked at a psychiatric hospital in Haifa. Claremont also portrayed Magneto and Xavier as former allies and friends, which is a notion that adds considerable poignancy to the X-Men mythos and has captured the imagination of fans. Sure enough, a recent interview with Sir Ian Mckellen (who portrays Magneto in the movies) hinted at a possible flashback scene in The Last Stand that depicts Magneto and Xavier as former friends.

Claremont also introduced the character of a young Jewish woman named Kitty Pryde, known as Shadowcat, who is one of the most popular characters in the series. Fans will be happy to learn that in the third film, Kitty (played by actress Ellen Page) reportedly gets much more screen time and sees plenty of action. According to her backstory, Kitty’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Prydeman, was a Polish Jew from Warsaw, who immigrated to the United States as a young man. He left behind a sister, Chava, Kitty's great-aunt, who disappeared during the Holocaust. It was in a story from 1985, when Kitty and Magneto visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and attended a gathering of survivors, that Kitty discovered Chava Prydeman Rosanoff had been killed at Auschwitz. Throughout the comic book series, Kitty shows pride (pun intended) in her religion. In one captivating episode, she defeats a vampire -- not with garlic but rather with her silver Magen David (Shield of David) necklace. In a more recent story, Kitty lights a yahrzeit (remembrance) candle in the memory of fellow mutant and sometime boyfriend, Colossus. [Colossus has returned from the dead since that issue was published, and now Kitty and Piotr/Colossus are an item. Rivka]

The biggest revelation about this summer’s anxiously awaited sequel is that the X-Men will contend with a "cure" that threatens their very existence: finally, a way is found to suppress the mutant “X gene” once and for all. The previous movies addressed the need for peaceful co-existence and conveyed a powerful message: be proud of who you are. The premise in the upcoming film is much bleaker, however -– now the mutants are offered the chance to assimilate into the dominant culture. And after all, if there was a “cure” for being Jewish, it might make life easier -- but what are the implications?

Jewish sages teach that just like no two snowflakes are alike, so too no two faces are alike -- and no two souls are alike. Everybody is endowed with a special blend of abilities and potential. We’re obligated to perfect ourselves and in turn, perfect the world, a process known as Tikkun Olam. Living as a model community of uniquely gifted individuals, the Jewish people are called to be a "light unto the nations" (Isaiah 42:6).

Will the X-Men choose to take the easy way out and “cure” the very thing that makes them who they are? Will the Professor and Magneto join forces one more time to defend the rights of mutants –- and of persecuted people whoever they may be? Exactly how much screen time will Kitty Pryde finally get? This summer’s new X-Men movie will answer all those questions, but it won’t be the last we’ll hear of this compelling comic book allegory, that has introduced Jewish tradition and history to a new generation.

Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is the founder of the Jewish Student Foundation of Downtown Brooklyn, an educational and cultural centre that strives to ignite pride and commitment through innovative educational and social experiences in an open environment. He is also the author of the new book Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero (Leviathan Press). For more information, visit www.upupandoyvey.com.

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