As if there are not enough things for a rabbi to do on Friday afternoons, I now have to squeeze in “WandaVision” on Disney+.

Luckily, as the author of “Up, Up and Oy Vey,” the first book to chronicle the Jewish influence on superheroes, and a self-proclaimed “comic book rabbi,” I can call it research.

In the show, Wanda and Vision Maximoff are two super-powered beings living their best suburban life. Each episode pays aesthetic homage to a previous decade of sitcom television; the results are clever and visually engaging. But spoiler alert: not everything is as it seems.

For one thing, Vision died in the Marvel cinematic universe — actually twice, by my count. In this show, Wanda seems not to be actually inhabiting these different televisual universes but actually manipulating space and time to create an idealized — though false — life with Vision, seemingly to cope (or rather, not cope) with pain and loss.

To paraphrase Batman, “WandaVision” may not be the show we deserve, but it’s the one we need right now, as Wanda’s coping mechanism seems to be tragically popular in homes during the pandemic. How many of us have spent the last year submerged in comfort culture food? Isolation, political turmoil and social unrest have forced many of us to retreat into nostalgia.

I see so many in my generation reverting back into the 90s. There must be a reason why “Friends” is so popular now because I don’t remember it being very good. And in the comic book sphere, it’s not just Marvel who’s interested in transporting us to less turbulent times: There is a reason the new DC movie was called “Wonder Woman 1984.” Anyone remember what happened in 1984? Not a pandemic, that’s for sure.

Nostalgia has its purposes, for sure: It can become a vehicle that takes us to a happy place, or at least what we remember or perceive to be a happy place, and we all deserve a little escapism right now. Certainly, when our safety relies on us literally hiding out in our homes, it makes sense we’d overindulge in television, particularly the kind that isn’t intellectually taxing.

But unfortunately for Wanda (and ourselves), insulating in a bubble of nostalgia is ultimately as unhealthy as stuffing ourselves with hamantaschen or davening obsessively over whether Ross and Rachel were really on a break.  

Insulating in a bubble of nostalgia is as unhealthy as stuffing ourselves with hamantaschen.

Wanda may be hiding another reason for her retreat into nostalgia. She first appeared in the Marvel universe 1964, yet it wasn’t until 1983 that her villainous yechus confirmed her father was X-Men anti-hero Magneto (born Max Eisenhardt), a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. It was in Auschwitz that Magneto was reunited with his childhood crush (and Wanda’s Romanian mother) Magda.

Holocaust trauma was part of Wanda’s heritage, as it was in the actual heritage of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, who created these characters. No wonder these characters and their authors wanted to hide from their traumatic truth.

Like the superheroes they created, these writers also understood the experience of having different identities at home and work. The historical need to hide Jewish identity by masquerading goes back to Biblical times and is famously present in the Purim story, in which our heroine, Queen Esther, hides her Jewish heritage from her husband, King Ahasuerus, out of fear she would be persecuted.

In this most recent telling of Wanda’s story, Marvel seems to have whitewashed Wanda’s Semitic heritage, but I can’t kvetch too much. Yiddish-speaking immigrant families created many classic comic books, and I could never have imagined when I wrote my book that over a decade later Marvel would come calling.

It was a rabbi-fanboy dream to be included in “Marvel’s Behind the Mask,” a recent documentary exploring the secret identity behind the iconic superheroes. Yes, I’m streaming on the same channel as “WandaVision.”

Yet like Wanda, Queen Esther or ourselves, we can’t hide from trauma. Esther summons her courage to reveal her true self to her husband and is rewarded for it. The ending of the Purim is a happy one in that the Jews longer need to hide their identities.

Maybe it’s time for Wanda and us all to come out from behind the mask, however painful the experience might be.

Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is a best-selling author who chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at Pratt Institute. He is the founder of the Jewish Autism Network (www.JewishAutismNetwork.com) and resides in Brooklyn.


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