Real Life Jewish Superheroes – Brooklyn writer uses comic book to tell the story of the Maccabees

Yehudah HaMaccabi, or Judah the Hammer, was one of ancient Israel’s greatest champions, leading rebel forces to victory over the mighty Greco-Syrian Empire in the 2nd century B.C.E., liberating Jerusalem and much of the surrounding territory. The story of that victory is immortalized in the Festival of Chanukah, which Jews the world over celebrated just a few weeks ago. Yet despite essentially being real-life action heroes, the Maccabees never quite captured the popular imagination in the same way as other chapters of the epic saga that is Jewish history. Despite an aborted attempt by Mel Gibson, and several other projects in various stages of production (or non-production, as the case may be), a major motion picture about the Hasmonean Revolt has yet to hit the big screen. A young Orthodox Jewish writer from Brooklyn is attempting to change all that. His plan? A crowdfunded graphic novel, tentatively titled Maccabæus.


Previously, Mr. Perez served as managing editor of the Brooklyn-based Jewish Voice, and his freelance work since then—mostly news reports and op-ed columns—has appeared in dozens of Jewish publications and media outlets in North America and Israel. Maccabæus itself has received attention in the Jewish Press and on the website of Aish HaTorah. Their Twitter account, @MaccabeeFilm has been raising eyebrows among major Jewish institutions and even received shout-outs from a few celebrities. Daniel was kind enough to sit down with us and discuss this exciting new project.

So we heard that Maccabæus was up for an award recently. Tell us about that.

Yes. It was in a competition called the Courier Awards. Maccabæus got to the semi-finals. We hope to enter it into a few more competitions in the coming year.

The story of the Maccabees is captivating. But why tell it as a graphic novel—essentially a long-form comic book?

Well, originally this project began as a spec script—an unsolicited screenplay. As I showed it to friends and colleagues, one response that I kept getting was “Dude, you need to make this into a graphic novel.” A lot of these friends pointed out that turning graphic novels into films is all the rage right now. You can’t walk past a cinema without seeing posters for half a dozen new and upcoming superhero movies. But potential movies aside, the book will be awesome all on its own. And it’s not just me saying that—dozens of supporters have backed us on Kickstarter so far. One couple even pledged a thousand dollars to the project.


I know! Right?

So, who is your target audience?

We’re trying to reach the Jewish community first and foremost, though I’m sure Christian readers will also enjoy this exploration of what they would call “intertestamental” or “apocryphal” history. Or really, anyone who likes a great action-adventure story. There’s something in it for everyone. Not small children, though. Due to the violent nature of the story, we’re aiming for high-school age and up.

Interesting. We hear you’re also marketing this as a tool for Jewish outreach. Why is that?

The story of Maccabæus has been a source of Jewish pride for over 2,000 years. We live in a generation where anti-Semitism is once again back in vogue, especially on university campuses. Jewishness is considered something to be ashamed of; Zionism is treated as a thoughtcrime. The Hasmoneans were devoted to their God, their people, and their land. They weren’t afraid to rise up and fight, when that’s what the situation called for. Another key theme of the book is this: Jews don’t bow. A true Son of Israel fears only his Creator. If I can help spread that message in a memorable and inspiring way, I would consider the project a resounding success.

Some have argued that the Maccabees were fanatical zealots, religious terrorists before the term existed. How do you respond to that?

Well, first I would say that it’s not fair to judge an ancient war by modern standards. Each generation has its own way of doing things. We don’t even have to go back that far. During World War II, we carpet-bombed entire German cities. It’s part of a strategic doctrine called “total war.” Hundreds of thousands of civilians dead. Back then, it was considered the cost of warfare. Today it would be called a war crime, and a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Secondly, I would say they do have a point. After all, the Maccabean Revolt, as much as it was a war against the Seleucids, was also a civil war between the Maccabee separatists and the Jewish assimilationists—that is, imperial collaborators. It’s more than a little ironic that Hanukkah has become the most assimilated of all the Jewish holidays. So the Maccabees did, in a certain sense, force their religious beliefs on others. On the other hand, the government they were fighting against not only deprived the Jews of their basic human rights, but they had committed a string of atrocities that would make Himmler blush! So how much sympathy are we supposed to have for Jews who would side with that?

While I’ve obviously chosen my side, the story of the Maccabees is morally complex to put it mildly—a fact we tend to gloss over on Chanukah for the sake of our kids. It’s an issue that I’ll definitely try to address in the book.

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