Super Jewess: Comic Book Artist Miriam Libicki
Miriam Libicki grew up in a Zionist home in Columbus, Ohio. So when she graduated from high school, she decided to go to Israel to see what it was all about.
Libicki enrolled in a program where she learned culture and history and worked in a poor neighborhood in Jerusalem. She was the only non-Israeli participant in the bunch. “It was a really inspiring year and I made Aliyah,” she said.
All of her friends in the program decided to sign up for the Army, so Libicki followed. “I thought that if I was serious about being committed to Israel, then I needed to join, too.”
Libicki didn’t go into combat; instead, she became a secretary on a training base, from 2000 to 2002. During that time, she wrote about her experiences, and then illustrated them in her 134-page graphic novel, “Toward a Hot Jew,” which was released in November of 2016.
“Toward a Hot Jew” is told entirely in first-person, and it contains quotes about Israel and Judaism, heartbreaking and interesting anecdotes, and funny, snarky observations from Libicki, like this one: “The new image [of the muscular Israeli Jew] was so powerful that North American Jewish parents, from the 70s onward, have sent their teenagers on Israel trips (two weeks to a year post high school) to cement sympathy with the Jewish State and plant the idea that Jews are kinda hot.”
Libicki drew portraits of the people she came across during her time in Israel, along with pictures of Israeli celebrities, politicians, and everyday citizens, and herself. She was there as the Second Intifada was raging on, and then went back and visited in 2008.
On one page, Libicki illustrated Ruti, a family friend who lived in Haifa and talked about the war. The conversation is typically Israeli, both dark and humorous. “It’s funny, but the one thing that’s come out of [the war] is I have friends in my building now,” said Ruti. “And it’s from all those days we spent in the bomb shelter together, and we had to talk to pass the time.”
A large portion of “Toward a Hot Jew” is spent on discussing the analyzing all the issues surrounding the Ethiopian Jewish population in Israel. Libicki said that the Operation Moses story is celebrated, “but people don’t talk about the discrimination the Ethopians faced after they got to Israel. They had an economic disadvantage. There is still anti-black racism against them, which was shocking to me.”
Aside from the Israeli comics in the graphic novel, Libicki also included an essay called, “Jewish Memoir Goes Pow! Zap! Oy!,” which is all about why graphic novels are so Jewy.
She covers Harvey Pekar, “Maus,” R. Crumb and Philip Roth, and manages to tie it all back to Moshe Rabbeinu. “[He] was the first autogbiographer, and tradition tells us that he was a reluctant one,” she wrote. “Moshe, allegedly the humblest among men, altered one letter in the Bible G-d was dictating to him, making it smaller, to downplay an instance of G-d’s intimacy with him.”
Libicki, who is married and has two children, is currently doing a write-in residence at her local public library in Vancouver. She said she wants to continue to write and draw comics about Jews.
“I have always been interested in the tensions and differences inside the Jewish community,” she said. “Jews who are white and non-white. Jews who are Russians or not Russians. I want to show this contrast, and how not homogenous we are, and how we don’t always get along.”
For her next project, Libicki is working on a 232-page graphic novel about herself and the exodus of Soviet Jews to the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. “Many of them ended up going to the Midwest because there were Jewish communities there,” said Libicki. “They came to my town, Columbus, and we absorbed a big community of Jewish immigrants. My school became one-third Russian speaking overnight.”
In her personal life, Libicki is experiencing the tension of hoping to find her own Jewish friends but having a non-Jewish husband. Still, she and her family celebrate Shabbat every week, and she keeps kosher. “There is a real tension of wanting to belong to a community but also feeling uncomfortable in it,” she said. “It’s important to me to keep holidays and some traditions. Now that I’m grown up and a mother of two, I’m grateful that I have a reason that feels bigger than myself to force myself to stop every week.”