When is the last time you read about the adventures of Shaloman? What do you mean you never heard of Shaloman? No, I am not making this superhero up. If you haven’t heard of him, I am honestly not surprised. In 1988, Al Wiesner wrote and self-published the first issue of Shaloman: The Man of Stone. The comic book series is written in a 1930’s style and the superhero is a stone in the shape of the Hebrew letter Shin in which anytime someone yells “Oy Vey” the stone turns into Shaloman with superhuman strength, speed, and invulnerability. The comic book was very much an independent venture that did not make a lot of money. Al Wiesner used to drive around to different synagogues and at book fairs sell comics.
The reason he created Shaloman is because, while he knew many popular comic book superheroes were created and published by Jews such as Superman and Spiderman, these characters were not Jewish. He wanted to create a superhero that was openly Jewish and had connections to Judaism. Several of the comics have themes of Jewish holidays. He wanted young Jews to see themselves represented by a superhero and feel pride. In the 1930’s and 1940’s when comic books were very popular many Jewish publishers and artists were concerned about their characters being openly Jewish due to Jew-hatred that existed at the time.
I think of this, and I can’t help but think of high school and college students who have grappled with wearing kippot or wearing a Star of David necklace publicly. In the last few years, we have seen videos and read stories of Jewish students being singled out, harassed, and worse because they wore something Jewish-related. While there are many Jewish organizations that do support students if they are faced with antisemitism and antizionism, it is still heartbreaking that young Jews or anyone for that matter, should be afraid to openly be themselves for fear of harm.
When I was younger, I openly wore a Star of David necklace and from time to time would hide it if I felt unsafe. In my later years, especially becoming a parent to two little ones, I constantly wear shirts with Jewish themes, post pictures at Jewish events, and usually openly wear my seven-branch menorah necklace. I do this because representation matters and seeing someone openly Jewish supporting good causes, being kind, being generous, being an ally, being there makes a difference.
Being a student is always difficult-- navigating so much at a young age and trying to figure out exactly who you are and who you want to be. While some are unafraid and proudly express their Judaism, there are many who don’t out of fear or a feeling of indifference. It’s easy to represent when you’re in the majority or in a safe community: it's different when you are one of the few or the only one. I hope as this new school year starts; students will want to be open with their Jewish identities. While being Jewish always has the risk of being hated and judged, it makes a difference when we are open about who we are and what our values are. The best way to combat bigotry and hatred is to be our authentic selves, to be successful when others want us to fail, and to be active and unafraid when the haters want us to fear and hide.
I am thankful to live in Rockland County where we have many organizations that support learning, diversity, inclusion, artistic expression, and community engagement. We at Federation are proud to offer both our own programs and to support partners who help build bridges and empower our communities. It is important to encourage Jewish pride and provide educational opportunities for everyone’s benefit. Let us all strive to not be an isolated rock but to be Shaloman, a hero who takes pride in who they are and works towards the betterment of others.