Shalom Life | April 25, 2014

Walking Dead and Kvetching with Jewish Zombies

Interview with 'Night of Living Jews' film director Oliver Noble to discuss anti-Semitism, Jewish roots, blood libels and kvetching

By: Amir Bogen

Published: April 12th, 2012 in Culture » Film » Interviews

Walking Dead and Kvetching with Jewish Zombies

The following story takes place on the eve of Passover in a remote town: A peaceful Christian family is suddenly attacked by a group of murderous, possessed Hassidic Jews. They are under the influence of a mysterious virus, spreading like an epidemic via contact with their infected blood.

This story might sound like it came out of the twisted mind of Joseph Goebbels, but in fact it is the plot of the 2008 parody zombie flick "Night of Living Jews."

The movie was created by a group of young Americans, both Jewish and Christian. The group decided to poke fun at all that is tabbo: From mocking the Jewish culture, anti-Semitism, the ultra-Orthodox attire, keeping kosher, racist myths and other prejudice against the Jews – they all come together in a trashy and amusing black and white bloodbath.

Oliver Noble, the director, screenwriter and driving force behind the project, is a young filmmaker and the son of an American Jew who converted to Christianity. Despite declaring that his original intention was to create a hilarious and fun zombie flick, Noble admits to Ynet that his family background definitely influenced the outcome.

"If anything I think it was more a fascination with that part of my heritage that I didn’t know as much about. But really the goal was just to make a fun movie; it’s far from a deeply personal exploration," he explained.

"Much like John, the lead character in 'Night of the Living Jews,' I’m a half-breed. My mom grew up in a fairly religious family Brooklyn and rebelled against that by marrying my WASP father and dabbling in Christianity. So really the only option I had to rebel against her was to explore my Jewish astray," he joked.

The idea for the movie originates in Noble's childhood in Upstate New York, right near the Catskills and the remains if the Borscht Belt, a once popular location for Jewish families looking for summer resorts.

"When I was really young I would sometimes go by them and was always fascinated and slightly frightened looking into this alternate universe of people who all dressed the same and only associated with each other. It sound corny a freshmen in film school-esque but a lot of horror comes from what we don’t know or understand. Plus, those outfits are inherently hilarious," Noble remarked.

Noble considers himself an agnostic, leaning toward atheist, but he does practice what he calls: "Neurosis, hypochondria and kvetching" pretty religiously.

The movie mocks religious rituals in general, both Christian and Jewish. "I think most religions are created equally ridiculous," Noble explained. "But to a large extent they have shaped the course of human history so for that reason they are also very fascinating. The way these religious texts, with much debated origins, have been passed down re-translated, re-interoperated and re-appropriated is inherently funny because it’s like history's longest game of telephone.

"But they are still used to influence national to international policy from war to marriage which is both hilarious and terrifying. I wouldn’t be completely surprised if thousands of years from now someone came across an old copy of Night of the Living Jews in the wreckage of the ancient city of New York and decides to use it as the basis for some new religion."

How much did the anti-Semitic tradition, stories and myths affect the script and movie? Did you look into them?

"I had a cursory knowledge of the blood libel myths when writing the script but it didn’t figure into the concept too heavily. As John explains in the movie, the poison Matzo that turns the Jews into zombies was not made by Jews, but by an "evil Nazi scientist." When it comes to any anti-Semite or neo-Nazi embracing the movie I feel like the joke's on them… But honestly, social commentary was always second in my mind to making a fun movie."

Did you consider that feelings might be hurt?

"While my intention was not to offend, I realized it could happen. I think for some people being offended is sort of a hobby. I think most Jews, secular or religious, saw the movie in the spirit it was intended and got the joke. But of course there is that cross section that lives to be offended and finds secret anti-Semitic messages in the writing on their cereal box. There was a conservative rabbi in New Jersey who tried to create uproar and got a story on the local Fox News channel. But his attempts to stoke a national outrage never really panned out, which was kind of disappointing actually. I think that would have been fun."

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