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Yaakov Kirschen: Dry Bones creator

Every generation needs a truthsayer. And if it is said with humor, we accept it more easily and it causes us to reflect. With his "Dry Bones" cartoon column in The Jerusalem Post, that's what Yaakov Kirschen has done for us since he arrived here from New York on New Year's Day in 1973.

He had been an artist and painter there – with a passion for cartoons whose turning point came when he saw an exhibition of "American Narrative Art – the History of the Comic Strip". He brought this concept to Israel in his daily narrative strip, drily mirroring the events around us.

As Kirschen was for me one of the best reasons to buy The Jerusalem Post, I asked him my burning questions:

Please introduce yourself with a summary of your life in one sentence.

I see my life as half an American Jew and half an Israeli – so I see both sides now, as a graphics person-journalist, trying to bridge our Peoplehood.

How do you describe your work?

I'm a cartoonist, trying to speak the truth in a way that people can take it, when communicated in humor.

What do you love most about it?

That I don't have to sit and shout at the TV set each day. I have a direct way to express what I see. If humor is included in political discussion, we can bridge the gaps.

How do you describe yourself?

At some point I thought painting was an excellent means of communication. But I am addicted to explaining what is going on. Like teaching, I am consumed with trying to understand.

What are you most proud of?

Having been able to be a part of the incredible miracle of Israel and having made it more enjoyable for fellow sufferers. It's like we are all in love with the same miserable person and we share the stories of mistreatment we have in common. Eighty-seven per cent of the Jews in the world live in Israel or English-speaking countries. We are becoming one Hebrew/English-speaking people. This creates greater togetherness.

What have been your major challenges in doing your work?

Not giving away my specific Americanisms in the language I use in the column such as flashlights vs. torches, hoods and bonnets and the like. I avoid saying it in a way the reader would think of it as "different" from his English, so all can relate easily.

Who has been your mentor, mainstay and support system in doing your work?

My LSW (Long Suffering Wife) Sali. She is my support, my help, my administrator with everything.

You just created a new Haggadah for Passover. With hundreds of versions already in existence - why?

No, it's not new. There is no standard translation. I worked for almost a year sitting with rabbis and experts to create the most accurate Haggadah. Because it has become irrelevant by distortion, abbreviation and trying to make is as painless as possible. 

Cover story ... the Dry Bones Haggadah

My goal is to create a new format in which the Haggadah can accomplish its purpose: to stimulate discussion, to make people feel it is contemporary and enjoyable and to experience the fun in the story.

It gives consistency to Jewish civilization. This is a guidebook, the center of our family life – which is the big secret of being Jewish and of the Jews.

What makes yours special?

With the Haggadah I have found my life purpose. In my work, as soon as I stop, the flow stops. I have always mirrored the present. The Haggadah I have created for the future, to show our grandchildren's kids our time too.

Kids should be looking forward to the Seder and the Haggadah and not to the ransom of the Afikoman. This is a Dry Bones book that has the whole text, framed like Talmudic commentary with a message for the future that crowns it like a jewel.

After such a long and illustrious career, what would make you really happy?

When our grandchildren are the grandparents, this will be the Haggadah they share with their kids and families. We will have been a heroic generation that survived isolation, boycotts, divestments, sanctions and delegitimization. How do we explain that we are living through what was described 2600 years ago? I want THIS to be the work I am remembered for. Political cartoons were for us. This is for our kids.

Yaakov's award for making a big impact

Ten days after our interview, Yaakov Kirschen became the first recipient in the field of culture of the new Bonei Zion prize of Nefesh B'Nefesh awarded in 2013 to seven Anglos immigrants who have made a meaningful impact on life in Israel in various categories. Congratulations Yaakov!

Read more on the website 



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Thursday, 25 April 2024

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