Dry Bones: Keeping the flame alive

After doing the Dry Bones cartoons for more than 40 years, I’m ready for the next step.

Yaakov Kirschen (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yaakov Kirschen
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I have just launched a crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo. Its purpose is to “keep the flame alive.”
After doing the Dry Bones cartoons for more than 40 years, I’m ready for the next step. I want to set up a Dry Bones Academy to sponsor and train a new generation of cartoon activists. We need a mechanism to fight the spread of anti-Semitism and the unbelievable apathy to the plight of Mideast Christians.
The Dry Bones Academy will be a virtual campus housing libraries, study and research centers, and will offer scholarships. This ambitious project will require the backing of major donors and foundations, but the very first step will be to turn Dry Bones fans into “members.”
And that is the purpose of the Indiegogo project.
So how did all this start? Back in the late Sixties, I was a normative New York Jewish artist who lived in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and who was upset about America’s involvement with the Vietnam War. And so I took to the streets with handbills that featured cartoon appeals to organize a response within the Democratic Party. My efforts were successful and I soon found myself running an insurgent local branch of the party that went on to become successful in elections for delegates to the fateful 1968 Democratic National Convention.
I was elected to represent our district as part of the New York delegation to the upcoming convention, and because my name and address was published in newspapers, I was deluged with letters from every special interest group imaginable. From Chicano lettuce pickers who sought a boycott to protest their working conditions to Black separatists who wanted a separate school system in Harlem. I had to regularly face a grumbling mailman who trudged in with a bag of mail for me.
At the time, Israel was seeking support for the purchase of 22 warplanes, but strangely, I received no mail from Jewish groups. When I got to Chicago I was one of the leaders of the New York delegation. As part of our activities we held a caucus to interview other delegates who were seeking our backing. And so I wrote a list of 10 questions to present to each. One question was about providing the much-needed aircraft to Israel. The only candidate who supported the idea of backing the Jewish state’s appeal was the one black candidate. Every Jewish candidate was passionate about opposing the sale.
After the convention, when I returned to New York, I grabbed a Manhattan phone book and looked up the word “Zionist.” I discovered that there was something called the Zionist Organization of America, and that it was located at 515 Park Avenue. I went to see the then head of the ZOA and asked why, as a Democratic Party delegate, and as president of a local Democrat Party club. I had not been approached by any Jewish or Zionist groups. His answer was “Because we don’t need people like you, we talk to people at the top, people like Hubert Humphrey.”
It was at that moment that I realized that we were in deep trouble. I left his office and wandered through the hallways of 515 Park Avenue, which back then housed every Jewish and Zionist group imaginable. Strangely, every office was quiet and empty. I then followed the sound of typewriters to discover one office that was a beehive of activity. It was something called Sherut Le Am. They explained that they had programs to send young Jews to Israel. They also explained that most of the other offices were manned by Israelis who were off “buying refrigerators and stuff to ship back to Israel”?! I volunteered to help the Sherut Le Am guys and for several months wrote and designed brochures and posters for them. One day they proudly told me that there was a major job search going on at the American Zionist Youth Foundation and that they had made an appointment for a job interview for me. I was not looking for a job at the time, but I did not want to disappoint the eager folks at Sherut Le Am and so I went to the AZYF interview.
The interview was amazing.
I didn’t have to lie or stretch the truth about anything.
I was clearly perfect for the job at the American Zionist Youth Foundation. It was then that I was asked if I had any plans to move to Israel.
I had never been asked that question and had never even entertained the possibility. I answered that I guessed that Israel might be in my future.
Whereupon I was told that my answer was unfortunate because the AZYF had a policy of not hiring anyone who contemplated moving to Israel.
I was shocked but it was carefully explained to me that “we can’t build a strong Zionist organization in America if our people go running off to live in Israel.” I left the meeting, went back to the Sherut Le Am guys and asked them to find me a shaliach (“emissary”) to facilitate my aliya.
I was a New York Jew who had gone to grade school, high school, and college in New York City. At Queens College I had been an art major, but it wasn’t until after my graduation that I was struck by the curious fact that although there were books on Eskimo Art and African Art there was nothing about Jewish Art.
And so I decided to write one.
I spent days at the Judaica Library at the New York Public Library Main Branch on 42nd Street with two stacks of index cards. One set of index cards was a collection of Jewish artifacts, i.e. Seder plates, Spice boxes, succot, halla covers, etc.
The other set of index cards was a collection of the graphic symbols that were the communication tools of Jewish Art. i.e.
the shape of the Tablets of the Law, the hands of the Priestly Blessing, the menorah, the Star of David, etc.
But my research soon uncovered an image that was forbidden to anyone under 40. Strange. The image was that of the fiery Chariot that Ezekiel saw and described in detail. I soon fell into reading the book that Ezekiel wrote some 2,600 years ago. Incredibly, he had a vision of a time in the future when the world would think that it had finally destroyed us. It was a vision that described how, from the grave, we would rise again. A vision of dry bones coming together. Living again. Once again in our ancient ancestral home.
Ezekiel wrote about the world in which we now lived.
For Ezekiel, what he saw was in that far future, but for me it was the present. Ezekiel wrote about us and the age in which we live. And so when I had schlepped my family to Israel, when I had made aliya and had decided to do a cartoon about the age in which we live, there was only one title that I could give to the cartoons that I would do. I called them Dry Bones.
We have achieved the long-predicted ingathering.
We have rebuilt our cities.
We have planted our trees.
We have brought our longdead language back to life. We have become a light unto the nations. But now we need to preserve and to protect that light in a world that prefers to appease the darkness. The Indegogo crowd funding of the Dry Bones Project is the first step in our ambitious effort to keep the flame alive. It is an attempt to fight anti-Semitism and the rewriting of history, and to combat the apathy to the plight of Mideast Christians. I have no doubt that we will succeed in keeping the flame alive. The first step is to convert “fans” into “members.”
Yaakov Kirschen is the veteran cartoonist behind the popular Dry Bones cartoons that have been part of The Jerusalem Post for more than 40 years, and who has launched a campaign on crowdfunding site Indiegogo, at http://igg.me/at/drybones. The campaign’s goal: to combat the willful rewriting of history, growing global anti-Semitism, and the apathy of the West to the destruction of Middle East Christian communities. The cartoonist may be reached at [email protected]