A New Recipe for Israeli Heroism

A New Recipe for Israeli Heroism: Makings of Falafel Man
by Dorit Maya Gur

My Israeli hero has red hair and a friendly, smiling face. He’s a chubby fellow who shoots falafel balls and protects the State. As a comic book artist, I created this hero in response to trends in Israeli society today – and in doing so, I realized that I had a winning recipe on my hands.

Superheroes like Superman, Spiderman, the Flash, and WonderWoman have physical powers beyond the ordinary: Some of them can lift a car with one hand, some run as fast as the wind, and others can fly. Superheroes are usually human, but possess almost divine powers. Not to mention that the best ones are beautiful, moral people who fight for justice. These are, for most of us who grew up with comics, the heroes.

Israeli culture, on the other hand, values heroes who do not have any special powers. They are mere mortals, only with striking character traits such as pioneership, initiative, vision, and decisive intelligence employed for the protection of Israel. This may stem from the fact that, in Jewish culture, ‘divine’ attributes are forbidden to humans, belonging only to God.

One of the first comics debuted in Israel in 1936, when the newspaper Davar for Kids printed a running weekly comic strip featuring main character Uri Muri. This child dressed in a hat and accompanied by a camel was the first Hebrew comic hero. Likewise, all the characters developed after this were of Hebrew children, halutzim (pioneers) who were drafted on behalf of the Yishuv (pre-State settlement) to establish the State of Israel. Later on, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, more mature characters appeared, like secret agents and soldiers fighting for the homeland.

Most of the wars that the State of Israel has experienced have elevated the status of the Israeli soldier. Especially after Israel’s victory in the 1967 War, the Israeli soldier emerged as the Israeli hero, respected in every home and the most popular costume for Purim. However, in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the State of Israel had to absorb heavy casualties, and the myth of the strong Israeli soldier was weakened. From that moment until today, attempting to crystallize the character of the Israeli hero has been an ongoing effort at a time when the definitions of Zionism and pioneership – even the meaning of being ‘Israeli’ – are changing.

As Israel develops, there is a growing awareness of the global perception of the ‘Israeli hero’. In many countries, when watching the news and listening to opinions on Israel, the focus is mainly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most pictures are of Israeli tanks and rifles. The new technological inventions, the many Israelis who won Nobel prizes, the creative literature that has won international awards, the remarkable music, the cinema, the contributions to medicine and science – all this is shoved aside. In the ongoing preoccupation with the conflict, people around the world see the stereotyped Israeli with black stubble on his face, cigarette in the corner of his mouth, dark eyes hidden under a helmet, with a tough facial expression, green uniform, rifle – and of course, he is bloodthirsty.

Understanding the magnitude of responsibility involved in creating a contemporary Israeli hero, I invented my own Israeli hero, found in my comics. I wanted to smash all the existing myths evolving Israeliness. As opposed to the muscular and well-built heroes, I drew a chubby hero with a big potbelly. My hero has red hair, freckles, and big blue eyes. He has a big smile that reveals his white teeth. Such a person is not intimidating; on the contrary, he invokes the desire to hug or pinch him in the cheek like any good Jewish grandmother might do. I did not want his expression to even vaguely resemble that of the stubborn soldier.

Regarding his superpowers, if he had known how to fly, he would definitely have said, “Nu, what’s new about that? We already have Superman.” And it would not be believable if he could run really fast, because he is fat, and we all know that the heart and lung capacity of the obese is restricted. He is certainly not capable of killing, not even by accident.

I decided that my hero is capable of shooting falafel balls with hot oil each time he waves his hand and aims at a target. Falafel was my weapon of choice because a boiling falafel ball can at the most burn the skin, nothing more. Plus, falafel stands abound in Israel, and it is most certainly my favorite food.

You are probably asking yourself: How can such a hero win over monsters, terrifying robots made of metal, strange kinds of machines, and other villains? The answer: His compassionate heart, his desire to help, and his mind enable him to defeat his enemies because he uses ruses, is inventive, and is prepared to make sacrifices in order for justice to prevail. He is a figure of values and morals – and for me, this is the makings of a true superhero.

Dorit Maya Gur is an Israeli comic book artist and illustrator who holds a degree in industrial design and education. She is the creator of the Jewish superhero Falafel Man. Among her clients are Nike Israel, high-tech companies, newspapers, and commercial companies, and she loves her job.

Illustrations by Dorit Maya Gur.

This post is from the just-released PresenTense Jewish Heroes issue; you can also subscribe to PresenTense Magazine and receive this, and future issues, delivered directly to you.