(Image courtesy of Marvel)In the 1960s, while the cultural zeitgeist was looking east to find spiritual fulfillment, Marvel Comics clairvoyantly tapped into that palpable yearning for mysticism by creating a magical being, Dr. Strange.
Back before there were hippies and when Brylcreem was still parting short hairstyles, Dr. Stephen Strange was conceived by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) in 1963. The Beatles hadn’t yet hit America, never mind set off on their journey to India seeking spiritual fulfillment with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (can you hear the sitar playing in the background?)
But soon enough the youth of that era were caught in a warped, psychedelic house of mirrors—on the one side, mind-altering drugs and disruptive rock n’ roll and on the other, a draft pulling toward a pointless war half a world away. Lost in what was an Ozzie & Harriet world gone madly awry, they broke with western tradition and looked eastward.
While we still wrestle with many of those same demons that haunted our politics and culture then—it’s a spell that hasn’t been broken—the story behind this latest blockbuster movie still sticks. Strange is a self-centered, but extraordinary neurosurgeon, who after a car accident loses the use of his hands. He journeys off in search of The Ancient One somewhere in The Himalayas, who takes him on, first as a student and then eventually he becomes the Sorcerer Supreme.
While only mortal, we too have time-travelled into this new millennia watching the rise of comic book culture roll past us on an unrelenting loop, with movie after movie, becoming all the rage due to our need to magically escape a harsh, all-too-real world. It would only make sense then, that nowhere is this fantastical, cultural phenomenon made more manifest than that other rough and tumble land to the east and the heart of all things spiritual, Israel. Just this past October, you could’ve found as many as 8,000 enthusiasts attending the Icon Festival in Tel Aviv. Now in its 20th year it brings together fans of fantasy, sci-fi, Harry Potter wizardry and of course super heroes.
While it’s been told and re-told how Jews created the comic book industry, based on stories passed down to them—whether it’s the linkage inherent in the story of Moses and Superman or how Cap’s iconic shield, like David’s, bares a star at the center—Jews re-imagined, reconfigured and redrew our own ancient history.
Ostensibly, we are also some of its most passionate and ardent zealots. Every June, back when I was a kid and before I’d set off for Camp Ramah in New England, the packing list provided would dependably read, “no comic books,” which didn’t deter kids (it probably encouraged them) to bring stacks of them to read by flashlight after lights out.
Now as kids and adults approach the holiday of Chanukah and celebrate a great miracle, it’s apropos to recognize both the amazing stories of our people as well as the continuing biblical telling and retelling of legends born of heroes and families who overcame insurmountable odds by fighting for what they believed was just and right.
Indeed with the rise of Israel from an agrarian, kibbutz style start-up to a thriving, economic super-powerhouse of technology and culture, young American Jews looking eastward for spiritual fulfillment, music, movies and all things meaningful, don’t have to fly over The Jewish State to Kathmandu any longer.
No need to chant, “om.” Your mantra is “home” cause our holy homeland is hip to you.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org