Superman was Jewish? Who knew?

An intriguing little item from today’s New York Times: 

Years before Superman could be easily spotted in the sky among the birds and planes — or in motion pictures, or on billboards or lunchboxes or the many other pop-cultural artifacts he now occupies — his co-creator Joe Shuster met him in person on the street.

In 1945, some seven years after he had been regularly illustrating Superman adventures written by his partner, Jerry Siegel, Shuster encountered a young man who looked exactly like the Superman character as he imagined him. He asked the man, named Stanley Weiss, if he could draw him, resulting in some sketches that have gone largely unseen for nearly 70 years, as well as some insights into the origins of this long-lived American champion.

Shuster’s pencil sketches of the square-jawed Weiss, who strongly resembles a certain Kryptonian immigrant and his earthly alter ego, Clark Kent, will be shown publicly at the Center for Jewish History in Chelsea, at a Jan. 27 event celebrating the 75th anniversary of Superman.

Larry Tye, the author of “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero” and a participant in the Center for Jewish History event, said in a telephone interview that Siegel and Shuster, who were both the children of European Jewish immigrants, drew upon many sources when they created Superman in the 1930s. They looked at classical heroes like Samson and Hercules, pulp characters like Doc Savage and, of course, themselves…

…“They were planting little hints as to his ethnic heritage and the fact that he was Jewish,” Mr. Tye said. For example, Superman’s arrival on Earth as an infant in a rocket ship parallels the biblical story of baby Moses being delivered to Pharaoh’s daughter in his papyrus basket. And his Kryptonian name, Kal-El, sounds like the Hebrew for voice or vessel of God.”

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