October 26, 2006
TV: Should Jews save the werewolf from extinction?
(Page 2 - Previous Page)As the avatar of the dangerous yet sympathetic outsider, there may still be a use for a revived werewolf in Jewish popular art, but not simply to continue telling the story of a stranger in a strange land. The first modern Jewish werewolf story, "Der Volf" ("The Wolf"), was written in 1920 by Yiddish poet H. Leivick (Leivick Halpern's pen name). Leivick wrote "The Wolf" as a response to the pogroms in Eastern Europe. It is a hallucinatory story, told in verse, of a rabbi whose shtetl is destroyed and who transforms himself into a wolf through what might today be called survivor guilt. Eventually he is violently killed by a nearby community of Jews after he tries, while in wolf form, to strangle the cantor in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. In addition to giving the Jewish werewolf its first modern incarnation, "Der Volf" is the only instance of Jew-on-Jew werewolf violence.
"Der Wolf" seemed prophetic in the 1940s, when North American Jews began to understand the dimensions of the Holocaust, and indeed it resonates with postwar versions of the werewolf tale mentioned previously. But it is more than simply this. In fact, the story begins where anti-Semitism leaves off, and explores the divisions in a Jewish community that has been deformed by outside forces and is set against itself. In that way, "Der Volf" points the way to a new Jewish werewolf story.
Imagine a film in which a werewolf tears off the remains of his orange clothing and attacks the Israeli army unit sent to evacuate his settlement. Or one in which the board of a Conservative synagogue, on a reconciliation retreat after a divisive battle over firing their last rabbi, discover that the woman they have hired to replace him has an insatiable taste for human flesh. A good novel has yet to be written in which the richest, most popular boys at the Modern Orthodox high school get killed, one by one, by a giant dog and suspicion falls increasingly on Zev, the awkward kid from a family of more modest means. We can, and should, re-imagine the Jewish werewolf theme, but the old story of the doomed outsider seems to have lost its teeth.
Jeremy Wexler is a writer and occasional contributor to CBC Radio's DNTO. He is also the editor of No Damn Good, Art Music and Tomfoolery From N.D.G.
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