Srulik's 'kova tembel'

At the 18th annual Israel International Animation and Comics Festival, which took place August 7 to 11, a large selection of Srulik cartoons was displayed in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday.

Srulik by Uri Fink (photo credit: URI FINK)
Srulik by Uri Fink
(photo credit: URI FINK)
If 30 years ago you had stopped random Israelis on the street and asked, “What is the most Israeli thing you can think of?” they would have answered without hesitating, “Srulik.” This undisputed icon of the young, strong and beautiful Israeli wearing the kova tembel (silly hat) and biblical sandals was brought to life by illustrator and caricaturist Dosh (full name Kariel Gardosh).
Dosh was a Holocaust survivor from Hungary whose dream was to become a writer. He actually viewed being a caricaturist as a temporary job until his Hebrew improved enough for him to start writing seriously. But life, as always, had different plans for him, and Srulik became the undisputed icon of Israeliness.
At the 18th annual Israel International Animation and Comics Festival, which took place August 7 to 11, a large selection of Srulik cartoons was displayed in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday. The character of Srulik was created by Dosh when he was working for Ma’ariv as the graphics editor in the early 1950s.
In 1953, Dosh joined Ma’ariv when the paper’s legendary editor Azriel Carlebach hired him to create cartoons to go with the daily editorials. Dosh’s Srulik turned into a kind of “State of the Union” illustration that used humor and sharp sarcasm to describe daily events of the young nation. Dosh continued drawing cartoons for Ma’ariv until his death in 2000.
Crocs in place of sandals
Shlomo Cohen
You can count on one hand the number of cartoonists in the world who’ve succeeded in creating a character that has become a popular national and cultural icon as naturally as Srulik did. The Americans have Uncle Sam, the British John Bull, and the French Marianne. And of course the Israelis have Dosh’s Srulik.
However, unlike these icons, whose place in the culture of their countries has been preserved in perpetuity, our Srulik has had to keep up with changing times. Every once in a while, someone designs a new character, but none of them have attracted much notoriety.
When I began drawing the daily cartoon for Israel Hayom 11 years ago, I was so happy that Srulik already existed and that I wouldn’t need to invent such a character. I had at my disposal a figure that symbolized Israel which everyone already recognized.
At first there were mostly negative reviews, which was not surprising. These came not from readers, but from other illustrators and cartoonists who claimed that this was an anachronistic, kitschy character that did not symbolize our time.
Nevertheless, I began using the Srulik character whenever I wanted to express an idea by drawing someone who stood for Israel. I didn’t try to imitate Dosh’s original character. Instead, I came up with a contemporary figure as I imagined him.
My 2018 version of Srulik wears Crocs instead of sandals, along with cargo shorts and T-shirts. The only original characteristic that I left him with was the kova tembel (though I draw it a little differently) and of course his curl. That was enough for everyone to recognize that this was a new take on Srulik. I told my colleagues, “Although everyone can characterize the figure exactly how they want, Srulik will always remain Srulik.
Just like there are dozens of versions of Uncle Sam, and yet everyone knows that they all still represent Uncle Sam.”
Unfortunately, only a few Israeli cartoonists have adopted this approach. There’s no doubt that this topic invites debate, but one thing I can say for sure: only countries that are confident in their culture can cultivate symbols and values and not feel the need to reinvent them every generation.
Kova tembel
Nisim (Nosko) Hizkiyahu
Srulik, the mythological character created by Dosh in the 1950s, and which appeared in thousands of Ma’ariv cartoons over the years, is a precious gift to our national repository of symbols. Very few countries around the world have been blessed with an icon that symbolizes the nation over a number of generations.
Dosh’s Srulik, which was created in Israel’s early days when life was simpler and modest, symbolizes the good and righteous Israeli that we once were. Our nostalgia for Srulik’s early days just makes the power of the icon stronger and shows us what’s gone wrong in Israeli society since the days of the kova tembel.
It turns out that quite a lot has gone wrong. In my opinion – and this is my opinion alone – the hat that Israel is wearing today is more religious, messianic, fanatic and discriminatory. Herzl’s vision of a democratic, secular and egalitarian state seems like a faraway dream. But if it’s any consolation, at least we can look back on our history and receive inspiration from the original Srulik character and the olden days when every Israeli cartoonist treated the figure with respect.
Not one Srulik, but many
Uri Fink
When Ma’ariv asked me to create – in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday – a modern version of Dosh’s Srulik character from the country’s 50th year celebration, I thought it would be fun if I replaced the familiar image of Srulik holding up a mirror with a cartoon of Srulik holding a smartphone and taking a selfie with a group of Sruliks who are all smiling happily. In my mind, this sums up Israeli society of 2018.
The publication of this cartoon provoked a huge wave of angry reactions from people who claimed that their ethnic group or community had not been represented in the cartoon and they accused me of hating people who were different.
Sometimes responses to a cartoon just serve to reinforce the whole point of the cartoon.
No longer a stranger
Boris Dickerman
I was a young boy when I made aliyah. I was living with relatives in Kibbutz Hulda when I received a very special gift: a kova tembel. Of course, I wore it with great pride. To complete my new Israeli sabra look, I also walked around in biblical sandals and with a checkered keffiyeh around my neck. I was so excited to finally feel like I was a real Israeli.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was decked out almost exactly like Srulik.
The symbolic Srulik had been created by another oleh hadash (new immigrant): Dosh (Kariel Gardosh). Dosh had survived the menace of fascism in Europe and made his mark by creating a cartoon of a young, strong Sabra Israeli. He recreated characters and iconic images and a language from his imagination that later became part and parcel of Israeli culture and discourse.
When I created my 2018 version of Srulik, I felt like I really found some great closure.
After all, the Israeli youth of today are citizens of the world. Unlike Israelis of previous eras, today’s young Israelis dress and look just like their counterparts do in New York, Berlin and Tokyo, and almost everywhere else in the world. Our mythological Srulik is an anachronistic and foreign character. Today’s Srulik is still Israeli, but much more worldly and modern.
Srulik protest
Itamar Daube
Srulik appeared for the first time in the early 1950s and turned into the national symbol of the young state in the form of a handsome, strong and proud young man with bushy hair who was wearing a kova tembel and biblical sandals.
This figure is the antithesis of the antisemitic and scornful representation of the Diaspora Jew.
The “Gulliver” Srulik cartoon appeared alongside an opinion piece by Sima Kadmon in Yediot Aharonot on December 18, 2011.
The column, which was titled “Yes, We are Afraid,” covered a number of disturbing events that took place during a politically turbulent week, such as a mosque being torched in a price-tag attack, settlers harming IDF soldiers, discussions of anti-democratic laws and the forming of a committee to handle the exclusion of women from the public sphere. Kadmon described the “anti-democratic, aggressive and destructive atmosphere that had taken over the country”.
The political cartoon translated the words into a visual image of Srulik, who symbolizes Israel from early state days, as being thrown to the ground and bound by a different type of Israel with other outlooks and beliefs.
Even this year, as Israel turns 70, when I look at Israeli society I see that we’re continuing to witness anti-democratic and anti-equality legislation, which serves to increase the sense that the ropes that hold Gulliver down have only gotten tighter. Maybe we should completely alter the classic Srulik image and create something more relevant to what Israel of 2018 stands for.
Shlonski in curls
Shai Charka
To create a character that will reflect all Israelis at one time is an impossible task. We’re a very diverse society in terms of our cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and our religious and political world views. I imagine that when Dosh created the character he probably didn’t think that Srulik represented every segment in society. It’s more likely that Dosh’s idea was to have Srulik represent an idealized Israeli that all of us would aspire to become and with whom we could identify.
In short, an icon.
Early on in my career as a cartoonist, I felt that the Srulik character was no longer relevant for our modern world. I didn’t feel that I could adopt this charac- ter in my work because the “we” that Srulik represented no longer existed – not even as an ideal.
When I would hear media personalities and political leaders – individuals from the old elite – use the word “we” when referring to the average Israeli, I didn’t feel like I was included in that group, like many other citizens from different communities within Israel.
Then a new generation of Israelis came of age and replaced the old elite, and all of a sudden I felt like maybe it was possible to bring Srulik back – in a different style. I’d like to point out here that this is not to say that I believe Israeli society has become more unified or uniform. Nowadays, when one group appropriates the “we,” no one else really pays any attention. These groups are not dominant enough to have a significant impact on society.
Over the last two to three years, I’ve gone back to using Srulik in my cartoons. I think that, in 2018, I managed to find the ideal amalgam that can help Srulik bring together aspects from many parts of Israeli society and perhaps some form of unity. I call this new version Shlonski in Curls.
And the very fact that this name has succeeded in annoying some people tells me that it is not a bad representation of modern Israeli society. Srulik, model 2018.
The Israeli who calls out, 'After me!'
Moshik Lin
When I was a child, my parents would read the newspaper Davar. We shared one copy with our neighbors, which was the custom on the kibbutz where I grew up. Sometimes my parents read the paper first and then passed it on when they’d finished with it, and sometimes it was the other way around.
When that same neighbor was appointed to drive a truck he became more worldly. He began buying Ma’ariv, and so sometimes we occasionally received a glimpse into the pages of that other strange newspaper.
My first introduction to Srulik took place as I flipped through those pages of the newspaper.
I was just a young kid when I first discovered the charm of those cartoons.
From that moment onward, every time I would come across a copy of Ma’ariv, I would avidly search for the figure with the familiar kova tembel and big curl. Later, I began drawing my own cartoons and there’s no doubt that the simple lines from Dosh’s Srulik remained forefront in my mind.
The most memorable version of Srulik that I recall was the one where he was wearing a soldier’s uniform and overpowering our enemies from the Six Day War with his fists.
Over the years, the handsome young man had a hard time keeping up with changing times. In the 1980s, I began drawing cartoons for newspapers. Deep down in my heart, I yearned to come up with a character that contained the essence of Israeliness just like Srulik did through the 1970s. But it never happened – there was no way it could. Israel had changed so much it was unrecognizable; the Israeli consensus dissipated and was gone. Srulik was a figure that we could embrace and love – and whose wittiness we could appreciate.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.