Being Jewish—in public

Bringing what’s inside… outside

SukkahOctober image

The year 5782 brought so much art into our lives. This included a moment in the world of entertainment--small, yet an important instance of visibility for the Jewish people. 

This past spring, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) revealed its first explicitly Jewish superhero. Marc Spector-whose super alias is "Moon Knight"-wears a Star of David necklace and dons a kippah . He weeps outside a family shiva. The show never translates "shiva," yet illustrates traditional Jewish mourning. 

"Preserving the character's Jewish faith was important to our entire writing team," said Jeremy Slater, the series' creator and writer, who consciously highlighted the character's rich Jewish backstory from his comic-book stories. Moon Knight streams on Disney+. 

Representation matters. All humans crave seeing people like them represented in popular culture, and the public stage at large. Many of us know that many superheroes were created by Jews. But how often is the hero him- or herself actually Jewish?  

Moon Knight , however, is a mixed blessing. Spector is a complicated character. He suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), more commonly known as "multiple personalities." He is a serial killer. He embodies a demonic spirit. He is… complicated. We see that Marc's DID begins with the trauma of a death. The shiva scene is excruciating. What is it like for us to see someone be Jewish in public, when the imagery is so dark and painful? 

On most Jewish holidays, we contain our rituals behind closed doors. We just completed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, inside the walls of a synagogue. Our Pesach seders are inside our homes. We read the Purim megillah within our communities.  

On Chanukah, do place a chanukiah in our windows. But it's just the candles that shine into the outside world.  

Sukkot, which is almost upon us (it begins the evening of Oct. 9th), is the opposite. We sit, eat, sing and pray right in the middle of the world.  

One year, my family had our sukkah in a backyard, where neighbors could see or hear just about everything. Another year, it was on the rooftop of our condo where folks could peer in or even hear our voices downstairs. Yet another year, we had a front-yard sukkah, where passersby could see every shake of our lulav. 

On Sukkot, we are exposed. We are in public. We are visible--and vulnerable. 

What do we lose and what do we gain when Jewish life unfolds--on the screen, in our flimsy huts-- for all to see? We lose privacy. We risk feeling on display. We worry that the neighbors will overhear our conversations, notice our complicated families, or judge our strange rituals. 

We may worry that Moon Knight isn't a lovable hero. But in both cases, I think we gain much more than we lose. To be visible is to be seen. When we are vulnerable, we are noticed. We are a part of public discourse. 

What a rare gift it is, in the history of the Jewish people, to be safe enough to place a sukkah on a sidewalk! What a precious moment it is for our families to turn on the TV and see their faith enacted by a superhero.  

We don't need to be perfect. We only need to be recognized. 

This Sukkot, may we sit in our makeshift structures, exposed to the world, with intention and pride. To be vulnerable takes heroic courage. To be visible is to be living our ancestors' most audacious dreams. This Sukkot, may we be truly seen, in all our complicated glory. 

Rabbi D'ror Chankin-Gould is Rabbi and Interim Grodzin Director of Educational Innovation for Anshe Emet Synagogue.  

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