Rich Cohen: A Land and a People

ISRAEL IS REAL An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History

Source: NYT, 7-26-09

I read “Israel Is Real” while preparing for my son’s bar mitzvah. By “preparing,” I mean talking to tent people and mailing invites. On the spiritual side, I’ve done my usual shirk: ducking services, doodling during sessions with the rabbi and dodging queries about my own bar mitzvah of wretched memory, celebrated in a gloomy temple filled with old men waiting for me to blunder.

I mention this as preface because Rich Cohen’s book accomplished the miraculous. It made a subject that has vexed me since early childhood into a riveting story. Not by breaking new ground or advancing a bold peace plan, but by narrating the oft-told saga of the Jews in a fresh and engaging fashion.

“David Alroy was the first superhero,” Cohen writes of a false messiah known as “King of the Jews” in 12th-century Persia. “He offered a picture of strength to a people lousy with weakness.” Cohen regards Alroy as a model for the figure created in 1938 — “another dark age for the Jews” — by two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland. “Superman is a writer; Superman is brainy in his glasses; Superman is in exile from an ancient nation destroyed by fire; Superman has two names, a fake WASP-y name (Clark Kent) and a secret name in an ancient tongue, Kal-El; . . . Superman, whose cape is a tallis; Superman, whose logo, the “S” emblazoned on his chest, marks him as a freakish stranger as the yellow Star of David marks the ghetto Jew.”…

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