Posts Tagged ‘Rosh Hashanah’

What would happen if I featured my faith more in my stories? Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on Jews in the media I consume.

As you probably know, in addition to being an eldritch abomination from another universe in human form, I’m Jewish (we need faith too, you know). I’m not super-religious, but I follow many rituals and feel close to my heritage and my definition of God. But except for a couple of stories, my religion doesn’t really show in my writing. Or at least, characters who share my faith don’t show up in my stories a lot.

There could be a lot of reasons for that. Part of it could be that horror, the genre I’m drawn to and find most exciting, doesn’t necessarily need religion. Horror may draw on religious beliefs a lot, but that doesn’t mean the stories are religious. Religious elements are just tools for telling a good horror story. Also, Judaism itself isn’t really a scary religion. We don’t have a Devil or Hell, and demons and evil spirits are still subservient to God’s Will and Plan. Beyond golems and dybbuks, the biggest sources of horror for us is our history of being oppressed. And finally, I may have never felt a real need to emphasize the beliefs of my characters. It just doesn’t matter that much. Unless I need to state it, their religion is, “Whatever.”

But lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about that. It started with an essay on Variety about Jews in Hollywood and how we’re represented that brought up some good points. I’ll let you read the article yourself, but it made me aware that I don’t see many members of my faith in the media I consume. And that includes in horror. Yeah, there are some: Stan Uris in IT; Yakov Ronen in The Vigil (one of the best horror films I’ve seen yet this year); Tzadok in The Possession (played by musician Matisyahu, believe it or not); and then some.

But still, it’s a small number. And in an age with resurgent anti-Semitism, I feel like that’s something that needs to change.

Besides, I want to challenge myself. What kind of stories can I tell with a Jewish character as a lead? And not just any kind of Jew, but an amalgamation of the Jews I’ve known throughout my life, from secular to religious and old to young, from all walks of life and all types of spirituality? What if I decided, for a few stories, not to make their religions “whatever?”

Well, I actually already know the answer to that. As you probably are aware, my short story “The Divorce from God” is to appear in The Jewish Book of Horror this holiday season, and a short story in this collection I’m working on has two Jewish men as the leads. And I like to think both stories are good (I only have confirmation of one).

But what if I expand that? What if I tell more tales–not all of them, but some of them–with my fellow members of the Tribe? What if their faith is both an aspect of themselves, though not the only one, and a source of strength? What if the lead is that amalgamation I mentioned?

Well, perhaps I’ll find out sooner rather than later. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m thinking of working on another novel after I’ve finished editing this collection and a couple more stories. And while I don’t think it’s necessary for the lead, I can also see them being Jewish. It could actually fit them very well.

We’ll see what the future holds.

I look forward to the stories I write in this vein.

You know, it’s funny. At one point when I was young, a grown up tried telling me I should write less horror and more of what I know. Which at the time was mainly going to a Jewish day school, having rabbis for parents and being annoyed by my sisters. I absolutely refused, telling this well-meaning grown up “that would be boring.” I think they were worried I was going to turn out to be some psychopath who murdered people in basements and then wrote about it (we horror lovers and creators are so misunderstood!). Still, I wasn’t going to write something I wasn’t attracted to or found boring. Stories are an escape from reality, not a regurgitation!

Now I want to incorporate what I know into a horror story. I guess it’s true what they say, when people “write what they know,” they’re writing it in a completely different way than expected. I wonder that well-meaning adult would make of this now? Hopefully they’d be intrigued enough to read it (and realize I grew up much more well-adjusted than they anticipated).

Anyway, it’s late and this post has gotten insanely long. I’m going to sign off and say Shabbat Shalom, an early Happy New Year (Rosh Hashanah starts Monday evening, it’s our New Year), pleasant nightmares, and a good night. See you next time, my Followers of Fear!

It’s been a rough week, so I was looking forward to ending it with a horror movie that’s been on quite a few people’s radars since the first trailer dropped. I mean, it has the producers of Get Out and Us on board! Even if Jordan Peele wasn’t part of the project (yeah, I know, I thought that meant he was too, but he’s not), it looked like it was going to be uber-scary and tackle difficult issues that have been plaguing America for centuries. How could I not watch?

Antebellum begins in what appears to be a Civil War-era plantation, and follows a slave called Eden. Suffering from the worst brutalities from her captors, she must find some way out of the nightmare she’s in. But not all is as it seems. What does what’s happening have to do with a woman in the modern era and an almost identical face named Veronica Henley? In the answer lies an evil dating back to America’s bygone days, one built on power, race and cruelty.

I think the film’s biggest issue is that, because of the creative decisions of the filmmakers, its plot is confusing. We start out on the plantation, then it changes to the modern day without any warning, then back again. It’s like two different movies have been edited together, one a historical horror film, the other a slightly supernatural horror film involving contemporary racism. It’s confusing.

And when the big twist of the story is revealed, it took me two or three minutes to wrap my head around it. And I’m the kind of guy who can usually guess a major plot point in a horror movie or at the very least wrap my head around a difficult concept rather quickly. If I’m having trouble, imagine what the casual viewer is going to have.

That being said, the rest of the film is decent. The sections on the plantation during the first third were especially horrifying for their brutality, and the second third had an uncanny, creepy feeling that balanced psychological and supernatural horror. The climax is exciting enough, and the actors are great at portraying pain, terror, hatred, sadistic joy and grief when called upon. Props especially to star Janelle Monae as the lead. The costumes and sets are also amazing, with everything looking like it might on an actual plantation in the mid-19th century. Except for the outdoor furnace, which gave me Holocaust vibes and scared me down to the core of my Jewish soul.

And like Get Out, Antebellum explores its main theme of racism and slavery in an angle that wasn’t expected and made me think. Especially after seeing the documentary 13th and learning how the modern prison system is very much a form of slavery.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Antebellum a 3.5. How it tells its story does bring down the score, but there’s plenty there to keep you invested in the film. And if you need some new horror right now, this will scratch the itch for you. Just don’t expect Get Out or Us levels of terror or deep-thinking.

 

One more thing before I sign off, my Followers of Fear. Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish community prays for our past sins to be forgiven, seek to forgive and be forgiven by our peers, and hopefully have a sweet new year. I have no idea what made this past year such a horror, but I’m hoping the next one will be better, and that the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death is the last in a year’s worth of horrors.

Shabbat Shalom and L’Shana Tovah (that basically means Happy New Year) to you, my Followers of Fear. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may the horrors of last year not follow us into the new one.