The Arty Semite

A Bintel Brief: A Bundle of Letters

By Liana Finck

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Liana Finck’s Bintel Brief comic is currently being serialized in the Forward. Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Liana Finck
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This is the first page of a comic book I’m working on. It’s based on the Bintel Brief, a popular Yiddish advice column published in the Forverts newspaper beginning in 1906. It was the brainchild of Abraham Cahan, the man behind the huge success and sophistication of the Forverts newspaper and the mastermind of the Bintel Brief.

About this page: Jacob Zemsner is a fictional character, and this myth about the tears is fictional too, but Abraham Cahan is one of my favorite real characters ever, a self-made American. His face really was vaguely heart-shaped, and he was cross-eyed and terribly embarrassed about that. More facts: he loved Charles Dickens. He was a humanist from a distance, a misanthropist close-up. He was an anarchist (he had to flee Eastern Europe at 22 because he was involved with the group that had assassinated the Czar), then a socialist, but not enough of a purist to satisfy any die-hard idealogues. He kept remaking himself. I completely recommend his autobiography, “The Education of Abraham Cahan.” A page-turner. Also his novel, “The Rise of David Levinsky,” which is slightly dated but no less wonderful because of that. And easier to find in a library than the autobiography is.

Seven of the 10 stories I made are adapted from Bintel Brief letters that hadn’t been translated into English yet, and lifted the other three stories from the collection of Bintel Brief letters in English, owned by most grandparents. The book is not finished yet, and I’m often asked why I chose to make it. I’m not sure. I was raised in Jewish circles but never could kindle much of a feeling of belonging to any group.

And why comics? I had to start forcing myself to learn about comics a couple of years after deciding (late) that comics would be the easiest artform for me to squeeze my interests (drawing, telling stories) into. So I’m not a Jew in the traditional sense, and not a comics artist either, but the one thing I feel strongly about is that honesty is not something you can aim for.

In art you have to painstakingly build a story (first you have to painstakingly build a self to tell it). Once your house is complete, down to the artificial windows, real light will shine through. I hope something will shine through these stories, in the lines and letters. Whatever the outcome, I’ll make comics for the rest of my life. Time is a good tool for art.

Here’s the first page of the first story. This story is based on the actual first letter that was written to Cahan. Cahan wrote about the letter in his autobiography.


Liana Finck’s Bintel Brief comic is being made with help from the Six Points Fellowship for emerging Jewish artists, a partnership between Avoda Arts, JDub Records and the Foundation for Jewish Culture. The comic is being serialized in the Forward newspaper.


The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the reading, writing and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books and book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history and more.


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