Gene Richter, 90, has been a Queens resident for most of his life. A veteran of the United States Navy, he speaks of his experiences to schools and shuls. One such encounter inspired a team of teens to depict his story in comic form in a new children’s magazine published by the Youth Department at the Young Israel of Queens Valley.
“I love stories, and there are very senior members at Queens Valley who have stories,” said Emmy Paris, 13. “Rabbi Marcus mentioned it once when he was speaking to us.” Seeking a way of bridging the generational gap in the shul and inspiring its youngest members, Paris felt that comics were the ideal medium for storytelling.
“First I get the content, brainstorm the idea, make a calendar and workflow,” she said. “I couldn’t do it alone and recruited Nava Kopstick and Yael Goldfarb as writers.”
Emmy’s father Reuven expressed pride in the comic book. “There’s a lot more to the comic than the end product. The period pieces are consistent with how Mr. Richter told it and that the pictures are true to life. The chapel in the Kabbalas Shabbos scene is historically accurate.”
Richter thanked the teens for depicting his story of service aboard the USS New Jersey during the Korean War, but noted one item that was inaccurate.
“The kids took license with it. There should be one stripe, not three, in boot camp. You can let it slide,” he said.
At the time when he signed up for the Navy, Richter was 19, living in Forest Hills. “I’m a patriot. And it was close to the draft. So many guys signed up.” He meant that many young men his age did not wait to be drafted. They volunteered to fight for this country out of a sense of patriotism.
Aboard the ship, he spoke of the difficulties in maintaining his religious observance. More often than not, it resulted in respect from his comrades. The chef in the galley agreed to his request to substitute lard for vegetable oil, and his friends saved his breakfasts for him so that he would have enough time to daven Shacharis.
Richter was fortunate that he did not experience combat during the Korean War. “The Navy is a landing party, but we did not have to land. The Air Force took care of the Koreans. I was there in 1952 and 1953.” The ship spent the war bombarding North Korean bunkers and observation posts along its eastern shore.
At that stage of the war, the front line wavered back and forth near the present-day Demilitarized Zone. There was urgency to sign an armistice to end the bloodshed. “At Panmunjom, if a chair was out of line, the North Koreans would walk out and we lost men in the meantime.”
Richter said that the USS New Jersey is a unique battleship as it served the country in five wars, recommissioned three times, and finally decommissioned in 1991. A decade later, it opened to the public as a floating museum in Camden.
“Sometimes it works against you, sometimes it works for you,” he said of his religious observance in the Navy. “It was hard to keep Shabbos in the service.”
Along with the illustrated account of Richter’s experiences, the 28-page comic magazine has short stories, and announcements relating to events at the YIQV Youth Department.
“The magazine is interactive. Readers can scan the QR codes to sign up for events and submit story ideas,” Reuven Paris said. Copies of the magazine, QV Kids, can be obtained at the synagogue and selected retailers in Kew Gardens Hills.
By Sergey Kadinsky