If it could work for the Holocaust, an Algerian rabbi’s cat, and a Birthright Israel trip, then it could also work for a Jewish day school governance and administration case study. So thought Ken Gordon, social media manager at the Boston-based Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, and he was right.
Looking for a way to re-imagine “A Case Study of Jewish Day School Leadership: How Way Leads on to Way” written by Professor Alex Pomson of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Gordon turned to author and graphic novelist Steve Sheinkin, author of the Rabbi Harvey series, asking him to use his graphic storytelling skills to give the 50-page case study a second life on PEJE’s webzine, “Sustained!”
Sheinkin admits that he found the request “very strange” at first, since this was the first time that he was being asked to take someone else’s narrative — and a long Jewish education case study, at that — and turn it into a comic strip. But he welcomed the opportunity to work on the project, approaching it “like a puzzle” as he extracted the core issues of the case, boiling them down to only a few scenes. “I stuck to the things that I could visualize,” Sheinkin said.
Sheinkin produced the first episode, titled “Big Picture, Small Picture,” which sets the stage for the story. It opens dramatically: “As the October sun set behind the distant hills of Deer Lake City, Dr. Daniel Moss pulled into the parking lot of the Isaac Herzog Academy.” The rest of the episode shows what happens at a meeting in which Moss, head of the school, tells the members of the school’s board that a group of young parents in a neighboring town want to open a new branch of the Isaac Herzog Academy so that their children can benefit from a Jewish day school education without having to commute to Deer Lake City.
“At the heart of this case study is a debate, so it was easy to represent,” explained Sheinkin. Gordon was confident that Sheinkin would know which information to include and which to cut out for dramatic and graphic purposes. “The nipping and tucking worked,” Gordon said.
Pomson, too, was pleased with the outcome. He wrote that he was excited about this new form and suggested that it would capture audiences’ attention. “Last but not least, the cartoon also provides a wonderful opportunity to have fun and to think. That’s a serious value proposition,” he said.
Some people have reportedly questioned the decision to turn a case study on a serious topic in Jewish education into a cartoon, but most follow Pomson’s thinking. The graphic edition has, indeed, generated additional interest in the case study. Since the first episode went online in the first week of July, 64 orders have been placed for the original text version.
Gordon expects the second episode to be ready for online publication on “Sustained!” at the end of September. However, it will not be produced by Sheinkin, as PEJE is inviting other graphic artists to create the second and third installments. Gordon refers to this as “the Pekar-effect,” and thinks it will “keep people surprised.” Sheinkin agrees with the approach. “I like the idea of a different author for each segment,” he said, complimenting Gordon’s out-of-the-box thinking. “Nothing in comics is too weird.”
Read the first episode of the case study, ‘Big Picture, Small Picture’: