"The Avengers #4" from March 1964. Images from Wikipedia

On the centennial of Jack Kirby’s birth, his superheroes still pack a punch


He is known, quite simply, as the “King of Comics.”

Born Jacob Kurtzberg, artist and writer Jack Kirby, who would have turned 100 on Aug. 28, was a driving, creative force during the Golden Age of comics in the 1940s, and he revolutionized the comics industry again during its Silver Age in the 1960s.

Kirby was the co-creator of such comic book icons as the X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, Black Panther, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and, most notably, Captain America and the Avengers. It was Captain America’s initial appearance that put Kirby on the map as a dynamic and provocative storyteller — especially since that appearance featured America’s First Avenger punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw, a full year before the United States entered World War II.

Kirby’s controversial drawing made a splash at the time, but his prolific, creative output from that point on proved that he was no one-hit wonder.

Artistically, Kirby injected comic books for Marvel, DC and others with a much-needed boost of energy. His vivacious, explosive illustrations are often described as too big for the page, imbuing the images with buoyant grandiosity. Kirby also became known for humanizing his superheroes, bestowing them with moral failings, romantic entanglements and petty grudges as a means of infusing them with more down-to-earth relatability. The Fantastic Four, co-created with Stan Lee in 1961, signifies this shift toward realism.

The son of Austrian immigrants, Kirby grew up poor on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In a lengthy interview with The Comics Journal in 1990, four years before his death, he painted an image of Depression-infested tenements, daily street fights and anti-Semitism. Kirby hated the Lower East Side and longed to graduate to the glitzy Midtown newspaper offices of the writers and editors he admired. But Kirby was always quite the maverick: At age 14 he enrolled in New York’s esteemed Pratt Institute, but dropped out after a week because he “didn’t like places with rules.”

In his late teens and early 20s, Kirby freelanced for several different comic strips before a brief stint in animation. He then began to collaborate with Joe Simon, a Rochester, N.Y., cartoonist who proved to be the more business-savvy of the two. The pair finally burst onto the burgeoning comic book scene with the memorable, Nazi-bashing “Captain America Issue #1.”

Jack Kirby

Like many of his creative contemporaries — including Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and Stan Lee himself — Kirby and Simon were Jewish.

Although Kirby attended Hebrew school as a boy and grew up in a Conservative household, he used pseudonyms as a freelancer and eventually changed his name permanently to Jack Kirby because, as he explained in his interview with The Comics Journal, “I wanted to be American.” For these young men who craved success in the secular world and sought an escape from their poor neighborhoods, assimilation was less a vindictive act than a straightforward means of increasing their chance for success.

In fact, Kirby always believed in his faith and enjoyed reading the Bible, his wife Roz (née Goldstein) confirmed in a 1995 interview. And it is evident that Kirby drew from Jewish mythology for inspiration for some of his characters and storylines: Kirby’s “New Gods” series for DC Comics features a character formerly known as Izaya the Inheritor, whose encounter with the Source is similar to the biblical story of Moses and the burning bush.

Jewish folklore also played a part in constructing the characters of the Hulk and Fantastic Four’s the Thing, both of whom share physical attributes with the Golem. And although X-Men villain Magneto was only later reimagined as a Holocaust survivor, the parallels between antimutant sentiments in the X-Men universe and anti-Semitism in ours are self-evident.

Kirby’s backstory for the Thing’s alter ego, Benjamin Grimm, reflects Kirby’s own childhood as well. Like Kirby, Grimm grew up poor and Jewish on the Lower East Side, getting into scraps and street fights with
other neighborhood kids. Steve Rogers, the scrawny son of Irish immigrants who would go on to become Captain America, had a similar upbringing.

Although Kirby eventually would serve in the U.S. Army during World War II after he was drafted in 1943, “Captain America Issue #1” allowed him and Simon to express their displeasure with the moral repugnance of Hitler’s Third Reich even before the United States formally declared war. This espousal of big-picture ideals, patriotism and strong personal ethics is precisely what has made the character of Captain America so beloved to comic book fans and so enduring in American culture, especially now, given current tensions over white supremacist groups and neo-Nazis.

It is not only through Captain America that Kirby’s legacy lives on. At Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim in July, Kirby was named a “Disney Legend” for his lasting work with Marvel Comics. The Jack Kirby tribute panel is an annual feature of the famous Comic-Con International: San Diego, and the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center in Hoboken, N.J., provides and supports educational programming to commemorate the comic book legend’s legacy.

This year, a century after Jack Kirby’s birth, the X-Men, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers loom larger than ever in the cultural zeitgeist. When Kirby died in his home in Thousand Oaks in 1994, the headline of his obituary in The New York Times described him as having “created comic book superheroes.”

Thanks to the revolutionary imagination of this scrappy kid from the Lower East Side, Kirby is not just the creator of comic book superheroes — he’s the king. 

Philanthropist Ann Loeb Bronfman dies


Philanthropist Ann Loeb Bronfman, who supported a range of causes through the foundation that she founded and ran, has died.

Bronfman died Tuesday from complications from emphysema at a hospital in Washington, D.C., surrounded by her five children. She was 78.

She funded and directed programs through the Ann L. Bronfman Foundation. The causes she supported included education, senior citizens, underserved youth, the arts and victims of domestic abuse.

Bronfman funded the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. The gallery offers exhibitions and programs that enhance Jewish identity, examine issues of social importance and develop community.

She was a trustee of the Rosemary Hall School, a boarding school in Connecticut, and was presented with its Alumnae Award in 1999 for “demonstrating outstanding achievement in her given field of endeavor.” Last year she was honored by the Teamwork Foundation, a Bronx, N.Y.-based organization that provides afterschool and summer programs to inner-city children, for her many years of support.

Bronfman graduated from the Rosemary Hall School in 1950 and attended Bennington College in Bennington, Vt., before marrying her husband, Edgar M. Bronfman, in 1953. They were divorced in 1973.

The seminar of a lifetime


As we stepped off the bus into McPherson Park in the middle of Washington, D.C., many emotions flooded through our minds. We were scared, we were nervous, but mostly, we were excited. McPherson Park was only a couple of blocks away from the White House. There was much irony in this situation. The park is often filled with many homeless people, and the fact that the White House is down the street shows the class gap that unfortunately exists in our nation.

Our mission that day was to bring the homeless some toiletries and food. Since we had leftovers from lunch, this was a perfect way to put that food to good use. Our only instructions were to approach the homeless in groups of no less than three, and no more than five, and, most importantly, we weren’t there just to give them the items, but to strike up a conversation.

In March, along with 18 other Milken Community High School 10th grade students and three faculty members, as well as teens from schools across the country, we participated in the Panim-el-Panim (Face-to-Face) program. Panim-el-Panim is a program of Panim: The Jewish Institute for Leadership and Values, a Washington, D.C., organization that helps teens experience political activism and civic engagement in the context of Jewish values and principles.

From the moment we stepped off the plane at Dulles Airport, we knew that this trip would not be another eighth grade sightseeing tour. We were there to make a difference, and we were ready for an adventure. Neither of us had ever been involved in any sort of political advocacy program, yet we were both very passionate about different issues presently happening in the world that needed attention.

The Panim-el-Panim program introduced us to a number of different ways to voice our opinions and raise important issues. We became more educated about the political system, seeing firsthand how laws are enacted and how issues are presented to our elected officials. Who knew that 20 teenagers from Los Angeles could help make a difference in the world?

When we first arrived at the program, our director emphasized that we are not the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of today. Even though we were only high-school students, these simple words gave us the motivation we needed to start brainstorming our ideas into concrete proposals that we would soon be able to deliver to our area Rep. Henry Waxman [D-Los Angeles].

The whole program was geared toward the congressional meetings that we were to participate in on the last day of our four-day trip. The overall topic for the program was civil liberty. We first spent hours gaining knowledge through seminars about this subject so that we could incorporate our learning into arguments that we would present to Rep. Waxman.

Milken was joined by about seven other Jewish groups from around the country, making our trip a social event, as well as a political and educational one. We were able to interact with other Jewish teenagers, some of who shared many common ideas, but some of who had very different opinions, which only enhanced our learning experience.

Every day, multiple speakers taught us the importance of civil liberties and discussed with us the many injustices occurring around the globe. The reality of injustice was brought home to us in the “street Torah” program. That afternoon in McPherson Park, we connected by sharing stories and our sandwiches. The life stories that the homeless told us were extremely moving, and the joy that they received from one turkey sandwich and a toothbrush was immeasurable.

The night before our “street Torah,” we met with two members of an organization that helps get homeless people back on their feet again. This experience with the homeless, as well as other social justice issues, culminated with our lobbying activities with Waxman and Michael Hermann, his staff assistant. They both were very pleased to hear the opinions of our group and were impressed that at our young ages we were well aware of the global issues. They both mentioned that they would certainly take into account the issues we addressed.

The group chose issues such as the rocket attacks in Sderot, Israel, homelessness and bringing peacekeeping troops to Darfur. The terrible suffering and, indeed, the genocide in Darfur is an issue we were very familiar with, having studied it in school and raised money long before we traveled to Washington. On our program, we lobbied for United Nations peacekeeping troops that would hopefully be able to contain the violence and bring about peace in Darfur and the surrounding areas.

Before this trip to Washington, we were never very interested in politics, primarily because we thought that we would not be able to voice our opinions. The Panim-el-Panim program taught us that it is important to keep our elected representatives aware of what issues are important to teenagers, the next generation of voters. We now know that we can make a difference.

Chelsea and Hayley Golub are in the 10th grade at Milken Community High School.

Speak Up!
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

ADL national youth conference inspires and empowers


On an overcast afternoon in Washington, D.C., sitting with about 120 other high school students from around the country, I listened to the empowering words of Holocaust survivor Henry Greenbaum as he described his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. He declared that it wasn’t one particular beneficial trait or talent that enabled him to survive the Holocaust, but just the fact that he had been fortunate. It wasn’t survival of the fittest in the concentration camps but survival of the luckiest.

Greenbaum was speaking during the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 10th annual National Youth Leadership Mission, which took place over a four-day period in our nation’s capital. The mission sought to educate and empower teens around the country by relating the lessons of the Holocaust to current issues of bigotry.

Having grown up in Los Angeles and attended a private school for the past five years, one of the things that particularly excited me was being able to connect with people my age from completely different backgrounds and perspectives.

The main highlight of the conference was visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I discovered the true horrors of hatred and silence. One section that specifically affected me was a hallway filled with Holocaust victims’ shoes, where I saw a literal, concrete representation of the true enormity of lives taken in the concentration camps.

It seems my feelings were similar to Greenbaum’s, who mentioned that this is the one section of the museum he tries to avoid, for fear of becoming too overcome with emotion. When asked why, he said that it was entirely possible that one of those shoes had belonged to a member of his family or to one of his friends, and this was just too haunting for him to bear.

In addition to Greenbaum, we heard from a professional Nazi prosecutor, an activist fighting current discrimination in places around the world, and also from many people from the ADL who have made abolishing discrimination their life’s work.

We were fortunate enough to talk with Dr. Leon Bass, an African American who fought in World War II. He explained how he has sometimes questioned why he was even fighting for a country that did not treat him as a capable, equal citizen, and how he has constantly struggled with others’ belief that he “wasn’t good enough.”

Through every aspect of the program, I began to recognize all forms of discrimination and bigotry. Jeremy Browning, a conference delegate from Detroit, said, “You really can’t talk about community and peace without meeting and getting to know people who aren’t like you.”

Feeling similarly to Browning, I especially enjoyed developing relationships with people my age from all over the country, who possess unbelievable qualities of leadership and empathy, and have given me hope for our future generations.

Throughout the conference, I began to realize that not every German citizen — and not even every German soldier — had been an evil, cold-blooded person. They had been misled by ingenious propaganda, stifled by severe fear and, in many cases, had become simply too lazy to care about what was going on around them, as long as it didn’t directly affect them.

Comprehending this made me adamantly decide that I refuse to be a bystander of hate; I refuse to be silenced and to become a living example of the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Stephen Czujko, a student from Washington, D.C., who also attended the program, said, “I feel like my experience has helped me to mature and has given me the confidence to really make a difference.”

Czujko and some of his classmates are planning to have a Holocaust survivor visit their school and also want to raise money and awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

Browning and his peers are planning to lobby the Michigan state government for legislation requiring that the Holocaust and other genocides be taught in public schools. Erica McMahon, a conference delegate from Washington, D.C., is in the process of initiating a STAND (Students Taking Action Now Darfur) chapter at her high school.

“We are determined to make a difference, and I know that I can, because there are 120 people [that she met at the conference] doing the same thing,” she said.

With this in mind, the 10 Los Angeles delegates that attended the conference, in addition to about 10 more teens from the city dedicated to inspiring social progress, are beginning to formulate a social action project targeted to benefit our city. Hopefully, our vision will spread to many other communities.

Teenage leaders are beginning to act throughout the country, and I know that it is my generation’s turn to stand up and fight for the changes that we are certainly capable of achieving.

For information about ADL youth programs, visit For information about ADL youth programs, contact mromo@adl.org or go to

+