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Superman's Jewish Roots on Display at 75th Anniversary Exhibit

By Mathew Katz | December 21, 2012 7:29am

CHELSEA — Call him the Mensch of Steel.

A new one-day exhibit at the Center for Jewish History will celebrate the 75th anniversary of iconic comic figure Superman, who first appeared in 1938 after being created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a pair of Jews from Cleveland.

"Superman at 75: Celebrating America's Most Enduring Hero" will be on display at the center on Jan. 27, accompanying a discussion panel that day at 1 p.m, hosted by Larry Tye, author of "Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero."

"In addition to having Jewish creators, there are hints that Superman himself is Jewish," Tye explained.

"When Superman came from Krypton, his name was Kal-El, which in Hebrew means vessel or voice of God. That's not accidental."

Superman's origins — escaping Krypton in a small pod and being adopted by Gentiles — also has echoes of Moses' escape from death as a baby in Exodus. 

"Plus, there's my favorite reason," Tye added. "If your name ends in the word 'man,' you're either a superhero or Jewish — or in this case, both."

The panel will include Jenette Kahn, former publisher and president of DC Comics; Superman comic writers Denny O'Neil and Jim Shooter; Nicky Nicholson Brown, the granddaughter of the founder of what would become DC Comics; and Sam Norich, publisher of the Jewish Daily Forward.

The panel will explore the semitic superhero's expansive history, how he's endured so long, and what's next for the caped one.

The exhibit will also feature Shuster's 1945 sketches of Stanley Weiss, a New Jersey dad who the Superman co-creator thought was the spitting image of Superman, on display for the first time. David Weiss, Stanley's son, will also be on the panel to discuss his father's work.

Superman fans are hoping the hero is about to enjoy something of a renaissance. After a flop film in 2006, Warner Bros. is rebooting the character in this summer's upcoming Superman movie, "Man of Steel," produced by "The Dark Knight Rises" director Christopher Nolan.

Tye said that the timing is right for a new Superman film, since it's similar to the Depression era, when Superman made his debut.

"At this moment, there's a global economic crisis and we want superheroes to lead the way," he said. "Superman, he's a comfortable, albeit clunky superhero. He knows right from wrong. Now is the right time."

The "Superman at 75" panel discussion is at 1 p.m. on Sun. Jan. 27 at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for center members, and are available online.