review of Interview with a Jewish Vampire by Erica Manfred, a humor-filled tale of a Jewish divorcee who finds the love of her life when she dates a man who has been dead for a few centuries. Television shows and films have made vampires very popular these days, but not many of these undead creatures are Jewish. Or are they? I interviewed Erica Manfred to learn more of the story behind this book.
ES: Okay, what’s up with your obsession with vampires?
EM: I've been a vampire fan ever since I read Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire in the 80s. Her writing was mesmerizing and the whole concept of a vampire society with its own rules, cast of characters and passions fascinated me. Of course it was all in the writing. Anne Rice was a wizard in that book. She's never written anything so brilliant again, but I still read her anyway. From there on I became a fan, watching all the movies and reading vampire books that intrigued me. I lost interest for a while but then Twilight came along and I fell in love all over again, and True Blood captured me completely.
ES: Have there previously been any tales of Jewish vampires?
EM: Nope, I don't think so.
ES: I’ve heard that vampires can be driven off by someone holding a cross. Do Jewish vampires have any similar weaknesses?
EM: If course not, silly. Crosses don't do a thing to Jewish vampires, nor do Jewish stars, holy water, or garlic. They aren't easily driven off, though ordinary gunshots will slow them down.
ES: Can a vampire fulfill all the Jewish commandments if he is unable to see sunlight?
EM: I don't think the commandments have anything to do with sunlight. Actually Jewish services begin at sundown, which is convenient for a Jewish vampire.
ES: Keeping kosher appears to be a challenge for an Orthodox vampire. Perhaps Reform or Conservative vampires have an easier time?
EM: Actually, the Talmud says that Jews can put aside Kashrut, or the kosher laws, when it's a matter of life and death. Vampires have to drink blood to survive, so therefore it's kosher. Problem solved.
ES: Do vampires really exist in the Jewish retirement homes in Florida?
EM: Of course, you just have to look at whoever is hanging around the pool after sunset, or walking on the beach at night. They're there, they just don't advertise.
ES: You seem to have done a lot of research into vampires and their lifestyles. Can vampires really fly?
EM: Well, Sheldon, my Jewish vampire hero doesn't know how to fly initially but he practices and eventually learns. He surprises Rhoda with a thrilling trip from the Empire State Building over the rooftops of New York City.
ES: In your book, vampires are quite considerate and usually refrain from seeking human blood. Are the horrors connected to vampires overrated?
EM: Absolutely not, there are vampires at the Bloodaholics Anonymous meeting in the book who go after human blood and don't give a damn what anyone thinks. They're only at meetings under court order. There's a vampire court you know.
ES: There’s quite a bit of Yiddish in your book. Did the language play part of your upbringing? Did you grow up in an observant Jewish household?
EM: My parents spoke Yiddish when they didn't want me to know what they were saying, but of course I picked it up anyway. I regret never really learning how to speak it though. My parents were non-religious, atheist, Socialist Jews, like Fanny in the book. But they were still very Jewish. We are as much a tribe as a religion.
ES: What’s next for you? A novel about a Jewish Frankenstein?
EM: Nope, but there will be dybbuks and a bigger role for Goldie the Golem. My monsters will always be Jewish. Jewish folklore has quite a few including all the angels. You didn't know that angels were Jewish did you? Well they all come from the Old Testament, the Jewish bible. And the Kabbalah is a source of lots of Jewish mystical lore.
Erica Manfred is a freelance journalist, humorous essayist, and author. She’s also authored two non-fiction self-help books, including most recently He’s History You’re Not; Surviving Divorce After Forty. Her articles and essays have appeared in Cosmopolitan, The New York Times Magazine, Ms., New Age Journal, Village Voice, Woman’s Day, SELF, Ladies Home Journal, and many other publications. Erica lives in Woodstock, New York with her Chihuahua, Shadow, and her daughter, Freda. Brought up by Jewish parents who spoke Yiddish but avoided religion, she got her Jewish education at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation which welcomes Jews from all backgrounds, from atheist to Orthodox, to vampire. You can learn more about her on her website.
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