With the recent expansion of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey into Hudson County, Jersey City counts as part of “our community.” This has been a bit of homecoming for this newspaper, which began many years ago in Jersey City. But it has taken a while for all its implications to sink in.
For example: Ms. Marvel, the youthful superhero who hails from Jersey City, now is “our” superhero.
Okay, maybe in the Marvel Universe JFNNJ has a different catchment area (and maybe, in a world of government agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D., a catchier acronym). But readers in our universe who don’t follow comic books should know that thanks to the writings of G. Willow Wilson, Jersey City has become a hot location for Marvel superheroics. For a new generation of heroes and readers, Jersey City is the new Forest Hills, the convenient-to-Manhattan-super-crises suburb where Spider Man grew up half a century ago.
Jersey City’s Ms. Marvel was created in 2014. She’s Kamala Khan, a teenage girl whose superpowers don’t help her with teenage problems ranging from sibling rivalry to keeping her secret crime-fighting identity hidden from her family to trying not to gush too much when she meets her longtime personal heroes like Spider Man. She is also, like Ms. Wilson and one of the editors who came up with the idea, a practicing Muslim. Her parents are immigrants from Pakistan and questions of identity and assimilation are a recurring background to the stories.
You can get a sense of the warm-hearted and realistic way this plays out in a panel in the first issue of her monthly comic, where she is sniffing a BLT sandwich at the corner deli.
“I’m going to start charging you for smells,” the proprietor says.
“Delicious, delicious infidel meat,” Kamala murmurs, entranced.
“Seriously, Kamala, I don’t understand why you do this to your yourself,” a friend chimes in.
We remember the thrill of recognition we felt back in 1980, when Marvel introduced the Jewish X-Man, Kitty Pryde, who wore a Magen-David and celebrated Chanukah. Ms. Marvel brought the similar thrill of seeing a character shunning pork — not precisely keeping kosher, but closer than Kitty Pryde ever came.
Fellow fans of seeing dietary restrictions portrayed in popular culture should be sure to pick up the new issue of Ms. Marvel, which returns to the theme. Ms. Marvel herself is altogether absent from the issue. Her family isn’t concerned; they say they know what’s going on. But her friends worry nonetheless.
And in this context, we meet a friend named Naftali. He visits Ms. Marvel’s high school brandishing a sandwich he praises as “Paper-thin OU-certified corned beef, toasted bread, enough horseradish to set up your bowels for a week, fresh from Elite Meat on Newark Ave.”
Yes, Kamala, there is an Orthodox Union in the Marvel Universe.
It turns out that readers haven’t met Naftali before because he doesn’t go to school with Ms. Marvel and the gang. He explains why he’s visiting the halls of Coles Academic High School: “We get Wednesday afternoons off at my yeshiva, so I make a sandwich run for certain select friends who would otherwise be forced to eat ritually dubious cafeteria food.”
We’re intrigued to learn of a North Jersey yeshiva with early dismissal on Wednesdays. Yet another reason our teens want to emigrate to the Marvel Universe.
And while we await the next issue to see what the future has in store for our new friend Naftali, we can’t help but hoping that Naftali gets super powers of his own some day. Then we can finally thrill to the adventures of the kippah-wearing hero Marvel can only call “OU Kid.”