In 1973, two years after arriving in Israel, I began drawing a political comic strip for the Jerusalem Post. I called it Dry Bones. It became an overnight success and was soon being quoted by major international media as revealing what the Israeli “man in the street” was thinking. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Forbes Magazine, and CBS news all did major stories on the Dry Bones phenomenon. Soon the cartoon was being syndicated internationally.
In 2005, after 32 years of non-stop newspaper publication, the digital world beckoned and so I started the Dry Bones Blog. Every day I post a Dry Bones cartoon along with a column of explanation/commentary. Dry Bones cartoons became quite popular in the digital world of the Internet. A Facebook Fan Page followed, as did a “Dry Bones app”, and Dry Bones at Twitter. Today my comments, cartoons, and explanations are emailed, shared, reprinted, reposted, facebooked, tweeted, and syndicated internationally.
But in the forty years that have passed, only once did I ever try to explain the vision and passion that had gripped my imagination and had totally changed the path of my life.
Only once did I ever try to explain Zionism.
It was back in the Nineties. I’d been drawing Dry Bones for twenty years. But this would be a book-length cartoon …a graphic novel. It would attempt to present an “objective” view of the current miraculous ingathering of the people of Israel to the land of Israel. I had titled my political comic strip “Dry Bones” because of my fascination with the 2600 year-old prophecy of the ingathering as described in the “vision of the dry bones” by the Prophet Ezekiel. But now I wanted to do something bigger than commenting on the news of the day! I wanted to tell the “big” story. I would write a book to present an “objective” view of the Zionist idea. This required an objective storyteller. My first task as a cartoonist/writer was, therefore to invent the character of the narrator. Maybe Theodore Herzl? The Prophet Ezekiel? Maybe a totally objective narrator would have to be non-Jewish …perhaps non-human? …a little space alien in a diminutive flying saucer? …a time traveler from the future? I mulled over the problem with a sketch pad on my lap, as I sat on a bench on Emek Refaim Street, early one blindingly sunny morning in Jerusalem.
Space aliens? …Time travelers? …Maybe some kind of animal? Across the street a thick-trunked venerable old tree stood in the front garden of an old Jerusalem stone building, looking as if it had been there forever. I began to mindlessly sketch the tree. My eyes followed the curve of its limbs and the twists of its branches while the pen in my hand mirrored on the paper what I was seeing. I became lost in capturing the roughness of its bark. Buses began to clog the road in what had become the morning rush hour. I sat on the bench, each passing bus taking turns hiding the tree’s trunk as they rolled by. Suddenly, shouting laughing noisy schoolkids were everywhere, a bell rang and they disappeared! My bench was in front of a school. The traffic had thinned now. I continued the sketch of the tree that stood in the Jerusalem courtyard across the street. Now a parade of young mothers chatting as they pushed baby carriages along the pavement. Soon the screaming schoolkids reappeared. Recess?! I was exasperated at the disturbing movement and noise that kept interfering with my concentration on and communion with the tree. I fumed to myself “Don’t these creatures have any roots?!!” I stopped. I realized that for an instant I had seen our species through their eyes. The eyes of the trees. Their roots grew into the soil, we were the rootless ones. We ran from place to place, like dry leaves in the wind. Our species judged progress by how much land we had “cleared” of trees. We, the rootless ones had carved up the planet, we poured asphalt on the earth to make roads so that we could speed further and faster in our vehicles than we could ever move on our feet
I understood. The creatures that could objectively tell the story of the Children of Israel and the Land of Israel were the Trees of Israel! What would they say about the Bible, our history, our miraculous ingathering, and our (and their) future hopes on this planet that we share? They were all around me. Some stood in a line at the edge of the schoolyard. I could see some ancient pines watching from a park down the road. And, of course, the venerable old tree that stood, looking at me from across the street.
The narrators of my book about Zionism would be …the Trees! But if the Trees could speak, what would they say?
As the months went by my pen often flew as if I were taking dictation. At other times there seemed to be nothing to say. During this time I moved from mountain-top Jerusalem down to sea shore Tel Aviv and discovered the trees that stood in rows on Rothschild Boulevard and the slender Palms that grew near the sea. At last the work was completed. It was a 192 page cartoon. A graphic novel called “Trees …the Green Testament”. It had in it everything I knew and felt about this land, our relationship to it, and the meaning of our return to it. All as seen through the eyes of the trees.
I decided to have a few people read the manuscript before we went to press. And that’s when things began to get strange. An ultra-Orthodox friend sat at a café with me on Yoel Solomon Street in Jerusalem and solemnly declared that I had not written the book. That it had, in fact, been authored by the “Gilgul” of some long-dead “Tsadik”. A Lutheran minister who met with me after reading the manuscript greeted me with “Praise the Lord”. With tears running down his face he declared that the book was a book of prophecy.
The book was published in 1993 and sold out its complete first printing of 40 thousand. Soon major newspapers and Jewish journals let out the secret that an Israeli cartoonist had written or “channeled” a book of prophecy.
But what it was, was a book about that vision that had seized me long ago and brought me “home” to a place I’d never seen. It was simply a book about Zionism.
There’s never been a second printing. But I’ve decided to issue a 20th anniversary edition.
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