When he sold his collection of over 2,000 comic books to his cousin, Rabbi Osher Werner knew he was giving up superheroes and Archie cartoons for a higher calling that tugged at his soul.
His early and persistent love of cartooning, which he nurtured all the way through college, gave way to the deeper sense of mission he felt to study Torah and help others do the same.
Heâ€™s brought his love of Torah and comics to Seattle.
As a scholar-in-residence in a joint effort between the Capitol Hill Minyan of Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath Congregation and the Seattle Kollel, Werner moved here this past summer, along with his wife, Aviva, and their five children, Elazar, 7, Tehila, 5, Michal, 4, Binyamin, 1, and newly arrived Tzippora, 12 weeks old.
Having spent the last 12 years in Betar, a town just outside of Jerusalem, Werner spent those years studying and preparing for an opportunity such as this. Charged with the job of community outreach to all Jews who want to study, he is enthusiastic and open. Although moving to the United States and living on Capitol Hill is a significant adjustment for the family, the transition seems to be a smooth one.
“My son likes Seattle and doesnâ€™t want to leave here,” said Werner, taking time out from the two hours a week he is teaching eighth-grade boys at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. “My kids are teaching our neighbors about keeping kosher. My wife, Aviva, is very much a doer and was the motivating force in coming here. And thereâ€™s something about Capitol Hill. I mean, religious people would have it easier living in Seward Park, but there are some [Jewish] people that have been hanging on here.”
In addition to teaching, which Werner admits is an incredible challenge, the multi-tasking rabbi also teaches classes at the Council House and opens his own house for arranged personal, one-on-one study. His family and his love of learning is extended to any Jewish person, regardless of their background or their philosophical orientation.
“Even if a person does not attend a shul, they can study,” said Werner. “I feel that our strongest connection to God is through studying the Torah. I hope people donâ€™t feel that to approach me or to arrange a study session they have to be a member of a synagogue. This is my main purpose: to connect people with Torah.”
In 1997, Werner reconnected his original attraction and love of cartooning with his current lifeâ€™s work. Using the skills he had developed at the State University of New York, where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in drawing, worked as a cartoonist for the college newspaper, drew for the yearbook and produced a radio program with voiceovers of his cartoon characters, he created a weekly comic strip called “Yossi and Company” with his main character, Captain Mitzvah. This year, he is being published on the Internet, the fulfillment of a dream. He would like to capture an adult audience with his work.
“I started out as a shy boy who would much rather read comic books than talk to people,” said Werner. “But then I put aside my communications interests to go to Yeshiva, where I became introspective. This is a dream of mine: To be published on the Internet.”
Although Werner hopes his art will touch the lives of many people, he is embracing the opportunity right in front of him to meet local residents and teach what he has learned.
“Weâ€™re looking to reach out to unaffiliated Jews,” said Werner. “I consider this to be a part of my continuing education. I spent a long time learning. Now I want to learn about the Jewish people here. Iâ€™m looking forward to meeting singles, families and all types of people but especially young families that are looking for a sense of community. I also want people to be comfortable with us so they feel that we are people that care about each other, think the same way and are striving for the same things.”