A Patriotic (And Jewish) Hero

by Cantor Eric Schulmiller

Happy summer, everyone!

I’m writing this Shaliyah letter on the heels of July 4th, so I thought it would be fun to share some facts about my favorite All-American super-hero, who happens to also have a very Jewish pedigree. No, not Superman. True, Supes was created by two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland and he does stand for “Truth, Justice, and the American Way™️,” but let’s face it, Kal-El (his given Kryptonian name) is an alien from another planet, even if he was raised in the heartlands of Kansas. No, I’m speaking of none other than the Star Spangled Super Soldier, Captain America (aka Steve Rogers).

Obviously, the red, white, and blue uniform, the name, and the star-studded shield clearly indicate that this is an extremely patriotic hero. But Captain America is also a very Jewish creation. As with Superman, Captain American was created by two Jews – Joe (née Hymie) Simon and Jack Kirby (aka Jacob Kurtzberg) as World War II raged in Europe. And the very first issue, from March 1940, features the iconic cover image of Captain America punching Hitler straight across the jaw! What could be more Jewish, or more American, than that?? But there are lots more Jewish connections for ol’ Cap. Not only was he created by Jews, but he was…created by Jews! In the comics, the inventor of the Super Soldier Serum that gave 98-pound weakling Steve Rogers his incredible strength, speed, and endurance was Dr. Joseph Reinstein, a brilliant Jewish scientist who defected from Nazi Germany and took the name Abraham Erskine to elude the Nazis. Dr. Erskine soon died in an attack, which is why there is only one Captain America, since no one else could recreate his formula.

But there are also a lot of similarities between Steve Rogers and his creator, Jack Kirby. Both grew up poor in New York City, both served in the Army in World War II, and both had “day jobs” as artists. And one of Captain America’s most important romantic relationships was with sassy Jewish Brooklynite, Bernadette (aka Bernie) Rosenthal (they even get engaged at one point, before Bernie heads west to get her law degree). And as a skrawny kid from the Lower East Side, Steve Rogers’ best childhood friend was a Jewish boy named Arnie Roth, who would stand up for Steve when he was attacked by neighborhood bullies, and the Roth family was like a second home for Steve, whose widowed mother worked long hours to make ends meet. Later in life, it was Captain America who was the most vocal supporter of his friend Arnie when he came out gay, becoming the first openly gay character in mainstream American comics. A very brave decision for Arnie, and for Marvel, in the 1980’s anti-gay Reaganite era.

It’s no surprise, then, that Cap was also very supportive of another gay, Jewish character, Aaron Fischer. Fischer debuted two years ago in a Captain America storyline about a diverse group of young heroes across the country who have formed a “Captain America Network” to stand up for the marginalized in their own communities, inspired by their hero, Steve Rogers. Among those new heroes is Aaron Fischer, a young, gay, Jewish runaway, who is described as the “Captain America of the Railways.” In a recent issue (it just came out during Pride month!), Fischer ends up getting super powers of his own, and Steve Rogers tells him that he would make a good Avenger someday.

So as we celebrate America’s birthday, I’ll be looking forward to the moment, some day soon, when the world meets the first-ever gay, Jewish Avenger!

Until then, enjoy your summer, and Excelsior!

‘nuff said,

Cantor Eric