LOS ANGELES (JTA) — As the new Superman movie “Man of Steel” flies to an opening on Father’s Day weekend, we earthbound Jewish men have the superhero’s creators — Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jewish teenagers from Cleveland — to thank for setting such a super high bar.
Especially if Superman, the ultimate immigrant, is a member of the tribe, as cultural commentators like Harry Brod in his book “Superman is Jewish?” maintain. Finally, then, we have an explanation as to why Jewish men are expected to fly over all obstacles, see through our family’s problems and leap with a single bound over the water shooting out of our broken washing machines.
This model of Jewish masculinity in his home world of Krypton was called Kal-El, which in Hebrew can be taken to mean “voice of God.” But in the home world of Jewish dads, who listens to us?
It’s not that Superman is the first man of Jewish origins whose light outshines ours. Just look at the Bible: Moses parts an entire sea; Jacob wrestles with, and defeats, an angel; and Judah Maccabee, whose name means “Hammer of God.”
On those mornings when you couldn’t run faster than a rolling bagel, how does that make you feel?
Guys, chill. So you’re not a man of steel. We are men of shpiel — super rationalizers who have developed and carefully crafted a number of Jewish powers. It’s not like we are going to be invited to join the Legion of Super-Heroes anytime soon, but on Father’s Day, Jewish men should be applauded.
Cheer our powers with fire: Though red-hot beams do not shoot from our eyes, Jewish men have been known to display other skills with heat. Recall that it was Jacob who sat around the fire all day cooking, and had a hot bowl of stew ready when his brother Esau came home hungry from the hunt. We also figured out how to make matzah in the required 18 minutes. Though I think we’ll pass on the credit for cholent. We’re in kosher barbecue cook-offs in Kansas City, Atlanta and Memphis. On TV we have Ilan Hall, a winner of Season 2 of “Top Chef,” and Eric Greenspan and Alex Reznik, contestants on the “Next Iron Chef,” as examples of successful Jewish men in the kitchen. Inspired by their success, I recently took a challah baking class. Does “bread of steel” make me super?
Cheer our mastery over conflict: Many Jewish men have learned to mitigate the POWs! and BAMs! that life can throw. In the Bible, Moses negotiates with God to save the Children of Israel. In Pirkei Avot, Hillel says, “Be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace.” In Israel, Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of NGO Monitor, also is the founder of Bar-Ilan University’s graduate program on conflict management and negotiation. In the U.S., Kenneth Feinberg, an expert in mediation and alternative dispute resolution, served as the master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. With three sons, my own skills as mitigator often were called into action; as boys they used to fight over video games. My super solution? I powered down the conflict by flipping off the circuit breaker for the TV room. Worked great — until dark, that is.
Cheer our super design sense: It’s not that we mean to criticize the new cape, tights and boots, but surely we can come up with a better costume. Hailing from the planet “Schmatta,” we come from generations of tailors, garment designers and manufacturers. As far back as Joseph, we understood the importance of a good coat. Today there are several blocks of downtown Los Angeles where many of the fabric stores have a mezuzah on the doorpost. Men like Dov Charney of American Apparel, Marc Jacobs and Mark Ecko — born Marc Milecofsky — as well as Michael Kors, one of the judges on “Project Runway,” are all designing men with Jewish backgrounds. My own contributions? One hot night in Los Angeles, with only a pair of flannel pajamas, with scissors, I cut short the sleeves and the legs. Bloomingdale’s, are you listening?
Cheer our superpowers in the bedroom — just not the bedroom you think. In our kids’ bedrooms we make the greatest storytellers. Backed by a line of Jewish ancestors who were dreamers like Joseph and Jacob, and the tradition of the maggid — the community storyteller, how could we not tell a good tale? Writers like Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer and S. Y. Agnon have set the tone. Today, Harvey Pekar, author of the comic book series “American Splendor,” and Barry Deutsch whose “Hereville” books about a “troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl,” have added a new edge to the tradition.
At Chanukah, one year, tired of the same old holiday storybooks, I made up one of my own to share with my kids — “Chaim and the Chanukah Derelicts.” As I recall telling them: It’s about this downtown parking lot and Chaim, he’s a lawyer who often works late. Well, one night during Chanukah, after getting off late from work, while walking to his car, Chaim gets …”
As to my superpowers? The next morning you should have heard me try to explain that one to my wife.
(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)