I wrote earlier about the Israeli television series”Juda,” now available on Hulu. It’s a story surrounding the titular character who is transformed into a vampire. Dragged out of his normal life, Juda suddenly has to contend with things like uncontrollable blood lust, garden-variety regular lust and the little things, like no longer wanting regular food and being averse to sunlight – sometimes. So far, so tropey.
But that’s where the similarities between Juda and most other bits of vampire genre end. I finished the series tonight in a glorious binge, and I’m here to tell you that in almost every way, Juda is his own creation. And that makes this series a refreshing, wild ride that is well worth the read.
Of blood lore and blood libel
Yes, I said read. It’s no small endeavor to make a vampire story that is unapologetically Jewish — and Israeli to boot. Just to begin with, there is the language barrier. Unless you paid close attention in Hebrew school — if you even went to Hebrew school — you will be reading eight hours of entertainment. And that will be a barrier for some.
Friends …. chaverim … I’m telling you it is worth it. True, Hulu has bought remake rights to the series and will be redoing it in English. Who knows where they will be setting the thing. It might be in Iowa rather than Israel (or more likely Brooklyn or Miami), but honestly, it won’t work as well. Juda swims in an environment that is entirely Jewish. Where no one gives a second look to orthodox rabbis or looks at you strange for requesting the kosher meal option. Plunk down Juda in Jacksonville and it loses something.
Then, there’s the problem of history. For centuries, a fiction called the blood libel has been used as an excuse to persecute Jews in nearly every place we have lived. It’s a fabrication that says Jews murder Christian children and use their blood to make Passover matzah (which is nonsense, as kosher for Passover matzah can have only two ingredients: flour and water). Ridiculous or not, untold numbers of Jews have died for this story. And it’s not hard to see how easily it would be to tie a tale of vampires into such a myth of “blood-suckers.” The history is fraught.
But for those who dare tread that path, there’s some rich material to play with. Kosher laws strictly forbid the consumption of blood, which is rather a big deal for vampires. And vampires and Jews both symbolize the other, the outsider, the dangerous exile.
But wait there’s more
Simply the fact that the world has yet to hear of an Israeli vampire would make Juda a fresh and different take on one of my favorite genres. But the series takes it a step further by shunning many of the tropes that plague vampire fiction (even though I love some of them).
Brooding, self-tortured vampires? You won’t find them here. And I love me some Louis from the Anne Rice books — he was always more interesting and complex to me than Lestat Imma do what I want de Lioncourt, in the same way that a grownup is more interesting to me than a teenager. But you just won’t find them on Juda. For that matter, look elsewhere if you’re dawn to the ever-sneering, always snarky vampire.
And you won’t really see tortured, drawn out romance here, either. Thank god. Because after “Twilight” and “True Blood,” I’ve had about all of that I can take, thank you very much.
Or vampire politics, for that matter. I mean, there’s a bit. It happens. For gosh sake, vampires are people too, and people love their politics. But the story really doesn’t center on the stuff. It’s touch and go in the literal sense. Touch on it … and go on. Perfect.
No one even goes near New Orleans.
What you get here are some new takes on vampire lore. Like how to treat the daylight issue. Or holy objects. Or that whole, delicious mess with blood.
Finally, and most delightfully, the first season came to a surprise end that I never saw coming but that absolutely worked, and left me shouting with delight. And I don’t mean to brag, but I often deconstruct stories as I watch them, and I pride myself in spotting a plot twist coming from miles off. I was happily knocked upside the head.
So guys. Guys. Give Juda a try. In Hebrew (and Romanian and sometimes French and once in a great while a line of English). It’s worth it. אני מבטיחת