at sundown tonight. If you’re just joining us, we’ve already published Debra Darvick’s Passover-themed stories and a few amusing-and-helpful tips for diverse seders tonight.
TODAY, we’ve got news about the internationally famous Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West. Then, come back Wednesday for a full interview with Steve Sheinkin and a glimpse at some of the powerful images that fuel his creative tales!
Here’s the puzzle: How does an author of history textbooks convince American kids that traditional Jewish folklore is cool?
Historian Steve Sheinkin solved the problem this way: He created Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West comic books. His graphic novels (book-length comics) contain real-life Jewish wisdom embodied in a tough, tall, black-garbed hero who looks like Clint Eastwood’s Jewish cousin—except that Harvey always shoots from his brain, never from his hip.
Steve’s third book-length comic, “Rabbi Harvey vs. the Wisdom Kid,” hits bookstores just in time for Passover. That’s appropriate since Passover, which begins at sundown tonight, celebrates the Bible’s most famous story of courage and liberation: Moses confronting Pharoah and eventually leading Hebrew slaves from Egypt to freedom.
Rabbi Harvey doesn’t part waters, but he dodges plenty of fists, knives, bullets and nooses by fearlessly drawing on the sheer wit and wisdom of Jewish literature.
“I write these books thinking of myself when I was an 11- or 12-year old Jewish kid,” Steve says in an interview from his Brooklyn home, where he lives with is wife and their two children. You’ll enjoy the full interview—along with images related to the book—on Wednesday.
For many years, Steve supported his family writing material for American history textbooks used in public schools. But, his love of history stems from the moment in his own childhood when his father gave him a hardback collection of Jewish folklore.
Until that moment, Hebrew school was a chore, he recalls. “It was important to my father that I go to Hebrew school three days a week for two or three hours each time. To me, it felt endless. Think about it from a kid’s perspective: I would finish my normal school day, then get on a bus and go to another school. That was tough to take.”
Mainly, 11-year-old Steve Sheinkin simply couldn’t imagine why this stuff mattered so much to his family. Then, his father gave him a copy of “101 Jewish Folktales.” That was the spark that blazed into his lifelong love of Jewish culture and history.
Through the creation of Rabbi Harvey, he now is drawing fresh young eyes to classic eastern European storytelling and the best in Jewish wisdom.
A recent story in the New York Post put it this way: “Rabbi Harvey is made for Hollywood.” The Post story also speculated that Adam Sandler might be the perfect choice to play the rabbi, although there’s no movie deal in the works at the moment.
The French press, including Le Monde, also has picked up coverage of “Les Aventures de Rabbi Harvey.” Steve’s previous two Rabbi Harvey books are praised in Paris and this new third book will follow in a French edition.
Steve’s goal is a revival of interest in Jewish folklore, and—even more than that—he wants to show readers that there are solutions to violent challenges that don’t involve escalating the violence. His lifelong love of American history lights up especially around those moments when men and women found clever solutions to defuse crises.
Similarly, when Steve sketches his hero Harvey, the drawings may look a bit like Clint Eastwood—but the overall storylines hark back to classic Hollywood Westerns with thoughtful themes about American values.
“I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood, but the Westerns I draw from most directly come from an earlier period in Hollywood,” Steve says. “For this new book, I looked at (Gary Cooper) in ‘High Noon,’ in particular. It’s got that classic man in the street bravely facing his foe. I had screen captures from ‘High Noon’ around me as I worked on this.”
Each of the three Rabbi Harvey books is comprised of shorter stories that fit into the book’s larger narrative. In the debut book, “The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey,” we meet our hero and he becomes the unlikely sheriff of a little town in Colorado in the 1870s. “Rabbi Harvey Rides Again” brings back a couple of Harvey’s toughest foes and introduces a love interest: a smart, tough miner named Abigail. In the newest book, Harvey meets his biggest challenge: a rival rabbi who teams up with a villain hoping to take over Harvey’s town. Harvey may lose his job, his life—and his neighbors in the small town may be fleeced by the bad guys.
Even though Harvey’s international fan base is growing, there won’t be a fourth book until at least the end of 2011. Each graphic novel takes Steve more a year and a half to produce.
“I do hope to continue the series,” he says. “But I always want to keep them fresh. I think of all the readers out there who know Rabbi Harvey now and have high expectations of our hero.”
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