February Staff Picks: Survivors, Settlers & Assimilators: Transforming Jewish Identities

"As a student of clinical psychology, I am fascinated by the topics of identity and ambivalence. And as a librarian, I have found that these topics are expertly rendered in graphic novels. Graphic novels have long been a place where core ambivalences are explored: where readers are invited to reflect, satirize, and mourn along with the comic artist.

Why have graphic novels become an important genre for parsing out questions of identity? Perhaps it is because graphic novels are both comfortingly literal and deeply subjective. Framing provides structure and context, while the words and imagery transport the reader into the psyche of her (usually singular) narrator. When we immerse ourselves in the perceptions, remembered conversations, thoughts, feelings, and dreams of another person, we inevitably expand our capacity to understand our own experiences.

Eli Valley, the author of Diaspora Boy, has another idea of why comic art and aspects of Jewish identity work so well together. Citing a poster put out in 2013 by the Israeli advocacy organization StandWithUs, which showed concentration camp inmates on one side in black and white, and Israeli soldiers in color on their other side in color, Valley suggests that all of Jewish history and contemporary life came to be viewed as either a mass graveyard or a triumphant revolt. He writes that this melodramatic binary is “indistinguishable from pulp, the foundation stone of comic art, and it’s one reason I feel comics, especially the lurid sort, are a perfect match to the mental mayhem” (Valley, 8).

To be able to contain and explore conflicting narratives can be an art form.

In this graphic novel collection are explorations of Jewish American, French, and Israeli identities. Subthemes include the Holocaust, the Jewish diaspora, racism within the Jewish community, intergenerational trauma, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One significant limitation in this collection is the underrepresentation of the voices of Jews of Color, Palestinians, and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Cited: Valley, E. (2017). Diaspora boy: comics on Crisis in America and Israel. New York: Or Books."
-- Curator's Statement

Antonia Hubert, MSIS, is an Edlab Services Associate who is currently pursuing a doctorate in psychology at Adelphi University.

Where: Reading Room, Second Floor
When: through February

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Staff Picks is curated each month by the Gottesman Libraries' staff to highlight resources on educational topics and themes of special interest.

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