Quite a year for our old friend Superman.
He’s turning 75 — he sure doesn’t look it! — and fans of the Krypton-born superhero have been flocking to the multiplexes to catch his latest movie, “Man of Steel.”
But how well do you really know this flying icon?
Yes, he’s sometimes disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper.
But did you know he’s also Jewish?
So says Larry Tye, author of the new best-selling bio, “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero.”
Some have opined that the new movie, and a few of the older ones, cast Superman as Christ-like.
But earlier this month, writing in The Jewish Daily Forward, Tye returned to Superman’s roots, where he identified models from the Hebrew Bible and recalled the Midwestern Jewish neighborhood, circa World War II, that was home to the creator of the comic book hero.
The title of Tye’s piece: “10 Reasons Superman Is Really Jewish.”
Here are the first three, in the words of Mr. Tye. (See note, below.)
“1) Superman’s creator, Jerry Siegel, acknowledges in an unpublished memoir that he was strongly influenced by anti-Semitism he saw and felt, and that Samson was a role model for Superman.
“Jerry also says he wrote about the world he grew up in: a Cleveland (Ohio) neighborhood that was 70 percent Jewish, where theaters and newspapers were in Yiddish as well as in English, and there were two dozen Orthodox synagogues to choose from but only one option, Weinberger’s, to buy your favorite pulp fiction.
“It was a place and time where weaklings — especially Jewish ones, who were more likely to get sand kicked in their faces by the bully down the block if not Adolf Hitler — dreamed that someday the world would see them for the superheroes they really were.
“2) If only we’d been paying attention, we’d have seen Siegel dropping hints of his hero’s ethnicity when Superman dropped down from a faraway planet.
“On Krypton, Superman went by the name Kal-El as in Isra-el and the prophets Samu-el and Dani-el. It means God. Kal is similar to the Hebrew words for ‘voice’ and ‘vessel.’
“3) The alien superbaby was not just a Jew, but also a very special one. Like Moses. Much as the baby prophet was floated in a reed basket by a mother desperate to spare him from an Egyptian Pharaoh’s death warrant, so moments before Kal-El’s planet blew up, his doomed parents tucked him into a spaceship that rocketed him to the safety of Earth.
“Both babies were rescued by non-Jews and raised in foreign cultures — Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, Kal-El by Kansas farmers named Kent — and all the adoptive parents quickly learned how exceptional their foundlings were.
“The narratives of Krypton’s birth and death borrow the language of Genesis. Kal-El’s escape to Earth is the story of Exodus.”
Note: Author Larry Tye has been a good friend of mine since the 1980s, when we were colleagues at The Anniston Star, a small, crusading newspaper in Alabama. Besides Superman, Larry has authored books about the Jewish Diaspora, Pullman Porters, and Negro Leagues pitching legend Satchel Paige.
The subject of his next book: Robert F. Kennedy.
By the way, his Superman bio, published by Random House, is now in paperback.