Like all good stories, this one begins in a bar.
It was 2014, and I was in grad school at Wilkes University studying creative writing. I was sitting at the counter at Bart and Urby’s (affectionately referred to at Bert and Ernie’s). Sitting next to me was a fellow student and author, Christoph Paul. I didn’t really know him very well, but we started talking about our projects. At the time, I was writing “Dinah, Won’t You Blow?” a novella that mixed Jewish mythology with the folklore of the Hudson River.
Christoph said he had an idea for a story about a Satanic bar mitzvah called “Baphomitzvah.”
The pitch was: Fiddler on the Roof meets Carrie.
The story would be about a Jewish kid who summons the goat demon Baphomet, with lots of blood and gore to boot. He said he wasn’t sure about how to go about certain important points. Like would it be a boy or a girl as the main character?
“Why not both?” I suggested. “Make them twins.”
He thought it should also be set during Halloween so there could be that extra level of creepiness.
“It should be during Purim,” I said. “It’s like Jewish Halloween/ Mardi Gras.”
He also said there should be some kind of epic summoning when the demon finally appears.
“The rabbi should turn into the demon, and his foreskin grows back.”
All these suggestions left Christoph howling. “You know what? I think you should write it.”
With his blessing, I started writing. Over the next month, I kicked around an outline, and slowly brought the story to life. It started with Ben, the brother, and his perspective on his crazy sister, and then moved to the Rabbi Hillel gearing the kids up for the ceremony, and ended with Ruth watching her party and life fall to pieces.
After I finished this story, I still felt intrigued by the idea of the Jewish horror story. And best of all I was able to explore questions about Judaism I had since I was a little kid. For one, I was always curious about the connection to the sea monster mentioned in the creation story in Genesis to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. I always figured they were related. That became the spark for the story “The Leviathan Blues,” about a pair of Leviathans fleeing from the angel of death.
On the flip side, I got to kick around ideas that bugged me within the horror genre.
Why was it in every zombie movie it was only humans who came back to life? Sometimes you got a mutant dog or something like that, but I felt it was always so limited. The connection to Judaism comes from idea of the Messiah returning and raising the dead. I explored the idea to the fullest in “The Messiah in Newark” where a newlywed couple struggles to survive each wave of the Messiah bringing the dead back to life, starting with people, then animals, insects and plants.
The story that brought it all together together was, “The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook,” instructions for creating a golem to fight off skinheads. I wrote this one on a deadline. Andrew Osborne had set up a Bizarro reading event at the Somerville Theatre in Massachusetts, and I wanted to bring something new to the table. Up to the last hour I was making revisions to get the story perfect. I also brought along a visual aid of golem made from Play-Doh.
I kept the pieces for the golem in a box labeled “X-Mas Decorations.”
I even had some audience partition with people throwing mock Molotov cocktails at me.
Along with a couple more stories, one involving a chatty burning bush, and the other about a pair of ghosts trying to lose their virginity, all the stories were complete. I was lucky enough for the collection to find a home with CLASHBooks. It was nerve-wracking making all the edits to make each story perfect and unbelievably exciting to see the cover for the first time.
And in 2017, The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook was finally published.
Ever since then, the book has been finding its audience. I’ve done a lot of footwork to get into bookstores. It really depends on who’s working the register that day and their mood that makes all the difference.
I love it when people say the book was written for just for them. (Which actually happens all the time!) My close family friend, Ellen Rich, who the book is dedicated to, left her copy in the waiting room while at a doctor’s office. She heard riotous laughter from the other room, and when she came back, the book was gone! I had to send her another copy, but at least I know the first one found a good home.
The book has been reviewed by Simone Somekh in Jewcy: http://jewcy.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/anarchist-kosher-cookbook, and by Matthue Roth in Hevria: http://hevria.com/matthue/cooking-with-the-anarchist-kosher-cookbook/
And best of all The Anarchist KosherCookbook is now a finalist for the Wonderland Book Award! (Fingers crossed!)
But by far the most extreme reaction came from this one Orthodox woman at the Brooklyn Book Festival. She saw the cover, she picked it up and asked what the book was about. I told her, “It’s a collection of Jewish-themed horror stories. It has stories about golems, and leviathans, and dybbuks…”
But when I said “dybbuk,” a look of sheer terror spread across her face and she threw the book down. She ran away from the table screaming, “I CAN’T! I CAN’T! I’M SORRY!”
“It’s not real,” I called out, “It’s just fiction.”
“I CAN’T! I’M SORRY!” She yelled and disappeared into the crowd. Nothing has been able to top that experience.
Working on The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook has helped me define my voice as an author, and gave me the confidence to pursue some of the stranger stories I might not have written. Let’s just say I have some more mashugana stories coming soon!
To life! L’Chiam!
Get your copy of The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook using the link below:
Maxwell Bauman is a halfway-decent Jewish boy from the Bronx. He is the Editor-In-Chief of Door Is A Jar literary magazine, and Managing Editor for CLASH. Follow him on twitter at @maxwellbauman