At the Jewish Outreach Institute, we recognize that our primary focus of Jewish intermarriage is actually a result of a much larger phenomenon, the increased intermingling of people in the U.S. and elsewhere over the past decades thanks to new technologies, mobility, and greater acceptance—even celebration—of cultural differences. Therefore, we are always interested and sometimes challenged when we see the merging or blending of the Jewish tradition with other people’s stories. One area where that blending occurs with thankfully little controversy, however, is in the art world. That is particularly the case of a graphic novel that recently came to my attention called, “Never Forget, Never Forgive.”
The story is set in the samurai era of feudal Japan. As a stand-alone graphic novel, it is a powerful and engaging tale, illustrated in the kind of minimalist beauty that the Japanese perhaps more than anyone else have perfected to its highest form—a few brush strokes conveying a universe of meaning; an unspoken expression replacing volumes of dialog. In fact, there are hardly any written words at all, compared to most graphic novels. Instead, the story is told mostly through illustration, and in a manner requiring the pace to slow, building the dramatic tension, which is then broken during quick bouts of action—again, a particularly Japanese flavor to storytelling.
The book feels so Japanese, in fact, that it’s possible for readers of “Never Forget, Never Forgive” to never see a connection to Judaism at all. That is, until they read the back cover, which explains, “‘Never Forget, Never Forgive’ were the common calls that Rami Efal, Israel-born author and illustrator and descendent of Holocaust survivors, heard while growing up. Yet the infant artist was puzzled: Whom will one forgive if not one’s enemies? …This tale invites one to an inner journey of breaking through the barriers within one’s own self and uncover the vast heart we share together.”
In drawing on—and questioning—the experiences and themes that he heard growing up among family members who survived the Holocaust, Rami Efal is able to “translate” his message to a story set in a totally different part of the world and during an earlier time, to demonstrate that the commonalities that both divide and unite us are ultimately timeless human traits. Armed with the knowledge of where the author is coming from, the story told in “Never Forget, Never Forgive” takes on an added dimension, and the echoes of the loss and horror of the Holocaust can be felt through the story itself. Efal draws poignantly on his own Jewish experience, even though his story itself is set among a different people. It works as a beautiful combination of the best of both traditions.
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