The cartoon short story “Lubavitch, Ukraine, 1876” by Sammy Harkham is a vision of the past that’s neither glorified nor overly sentimental.
The comic follows a Hasidic sofer, or scribe, named Harkham, as he goes about his daily routine, running errands for his wife, calligraphing a mezuzah, figuring out plans for Shabbat dinner. Harkham’s problems–work, poverty, exhaustion, kvetching in-laws–are sources of tension throughout the story. So is the mezuzah he’s writing, which he keeps getting distracted from finishing.
The same way Moby-Dick isn’t only a book about a whale, this story isn’t only about Harkham’s day. “Remember when we first got married?” Harkham asks his wife in the middle of a fight. “Will it ever be like that again?” He’s also bothered by a letter he had written to his brother, which was returned in the mail. The postmaster, looking at the brother’s address, says, “Oh, there was a pogrom there.”