Toward a Hot Jew

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

Miri­am Libic­ki man­ages to both draw and encom­pass every kind of Jew in her col­lec­tion of graph­ic essays, Towards a Hot Jew. From hot to awk­ward, Sephar­di to Ashke­nazi, Jew­ish com­ic artists to renowned Jew­ish philoso­phers and politi­cians, Libic­ki por­trays an array of authen­tic Jew­ish peo­ples in sev­er­al con­texts of history.

Through­out Libicki’s per­son­ably nar­rat­ed graph­ic essays, she illu­mi­nates the con­fu­sion of nation­al­ists, youth, and out­siders in top­ics con­cern­ing expres­sion through art, the social con­structs and con­flicts of Israel, and the explo­ration of what it means to be Jew­ish. Even though the sub­jects are divid­ed into their own con­densed graph­ic essays, they are able to relate to one anoth­er under the colos­sal umbrel­la of the lives of Jew­ish peoples.

Aside from Libicki’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal essay, she does not pose as an expert on any of the ideas, his­tor­i­cal recounts, or con­cepts she puts forth. She humbly takes to inter­view­ing peo­ple, in which we most­ly gain per­spec­tive by way of oth­ers’ opin­ions and first-hand expe­ri­ences. The inter­vie­wees are pre­sent­ed as far from glo­ri­fied, all-know­ing and moral­is­tic, which gives the essays their authen­tic­i­ty. In fact, many show signs of con­fu­sion and resent­ment towards their roots and envi­ron­ment, espe­cial­ly in the Strang­ing the Wel­com­er” essay, in which Ethiopi­an Jews explain how hard they had to prove them­selves as Israeli. When­ev­er I knew some­thing the teach­ers were sur­prised because I am Ethiopi­an” Shu­la Mola, Chair­woman of the Israel Asso­ci­a­tion for Ethiopi­an Jews, shares. I want­ed to go to uni­ver­si­ty. But they expect­ed us to become noth­ing more than cleaners.”

The com­pi­la­tion of what oth­ers have to say dri­ves the points home in the dif­fer­ent essays. The vocal­ized top­ics range from the expe­ri­ence of an Ethiopi­an Jew post-Oper­a­tion Solomon to the fetishiza­tion of sol­diers in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to deeply devot­ed Israeli cit­i­zens who are no longer sure why they stay. These heavy issues are light­ened with Libicki’s ubiq­ui­tous car­toon of her­self, pip­ing in with both seri­ous and wit­ty reflec­tions of her own: This racism isn’t 50 years out of date, it’s 200! Fuck, Israel. Why are you being so stu­pid! You’re blow­ing it for all of us!”

The peo­ple Libic­ki talks to are illus­trat­ed gen­uine­ly not only through their sen­ti­ments, but also through the actu­al illus­tra­tion of them. The author draws out face expres­sions that depict feel­ings of nos­tal­gia, melan­choly, and of mis­place­ment through soft and harsh tones in water­col­or and graphite. These draw­ings give real dimen­sions to peo­ple that allow us to inter­pret what face expres­sions and body lan­guage means. Libicki’s inge­nu­ity also applies to her­self through her auto­bi­og­ra­phy, where she dis­cuss­es com­ic auto­bi­ogra­phies as well as what it’s like to be a Jew­ish graph­ic artist and a Jew­ish woman.

Libic­ki unique­ly explores a pletho­ra of sub­jects through refresh­ing­ly diverse forms of nar­ra­tion and illus­tra­tion in which the top­ics tran­scend beyond its face-val­ue. We find our­selves pon­der­ing the root of human moti­va­tion, the effects of nation­al­ism on the out­sider, and self-per­pet­u­at­ing stereo­types, all of which helps us under­stand the lives of Jew­ish peo­ple in both a his­tor­i­cal and glob­al context.

Michelle Zau­rov is Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s pro­gram asso­ciate. She grad­u­at­ed from Bing­ham­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in New York, where she stud­ied Eng­lish and lit­er­a­ture. She has worked as a jour­nal­ist writ­ing for the Home Reporter, a local Brook­lyn pub­li­ca­tion. She enjoys read­ing real­is­tic fic­tion and fan­ta­sy nov­els, espe­cial­ly with a strong female lead.

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