A Cartoon of the Jewish World

July 8, 2010 by

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I popped in to the Cartoon Museum in Holon the other day. In the garden there was a ‘life-size’ cartoon from the 50s. It’s a cracking summary of how Israel and Jewish Peoplehood used to be imagined. To the left, staring out broigus-like away from the group, is the Haredi with the sign “I am a Jew” on his chest. To the right, cigar in mouth and eyes non-existent behind (sun?)glasses, is the ridiculously dressed camera-toting American with the sign “I am a Zionist”. And in the middle, kova tembel and all, is the young man apologetically trying to put his arms round them both, sporting the sign “I am an Israeli”.

It’s a wonderful picture of a time gone by.

Back in the fifties the Zionist, the supporter of Israel, was seen as only having contact with the Israeli as a tourist. That a Zionist might be from somewhere other than North America, and might have many other methods of connecting to Israel than an occasional fundraising mission – these are phenomena that were perhaps unimaginable in the 50s. I’m also interested in how the Zionist has no eyes, and if he does then the thickness of his spectacles suggest his vision isn’t that great. A quick scan of Jewish media around the world today would suggest that the blurred, or even rose-tinted vision of Israel, is becoming a thing of the past.

I love the way the Jew stands separate from the Israeli. It’s almost cute when you think about it. When we look at Israeli society today, with religious political parties, significant proportions of the population behaving in traditional ways, the sprouting of signposts to the graves of saints throughout the country, it’s amazing to think that once Israeli and Jewish were seen as something entirely separate.

The most tragic change to me is how the Israeli sees himself as the mediator of the Jewish people. (Forget that fact that he’s a socialist kibbutznik – that’s beyond tragedy now!) In the cartoon the Israeli is at the center of an estranged people, trying charmingly to bridge the gaps. If only Israel were still seen as the convening center of the Jewish world. If only Israelis still saw it as their obligation to work at mediating and unifying the different wings of the Jewish People.

Only two things haven’t changed. The Haredim are still unhappy with the Zionist Israelis. And it’s still a boy’s game: There are still no women being portrayed front and center of this ongoing struggle for the image of Israel in the Jewish world.

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