Register for your 100% free subscription. Full details.
Hey, Hannah? I’m the dybbuk who lives in your apartment, and we need to talk:
Get your shit together!
Look I don’t like this either, but I’m here, and I need your help – and you’re no good to anyone like this. I know what it’s like to be young – hell, I was young once, I had dreams and a future and a girl who loved me and who I loved in return. But nooooo, I was “poor” and “dabbled too much in forbidden knowledge” and they went and promised my beloved Leah to some guy named Nakham! He was such a prick!
So anyway, I swore revenge, died, possessed Nakham, and what did he do? That asshole got on a boat to the New World.
As you might have gathered, Leah never joined Nakham, Nakham died, and now I’m stuck here in your apartment, no host body of my own, watching you eat cereal for the fifth night in a row. And frankly, I’ve got better things to do – I’d slip inside right now, but your mind is just – kinda full? There isn’t really any room in there. And you’re taking terrible care of yourself, and like – if I wanted to pilot around a body of someone who hasn’t had a vegetable in six months, I would have stayed on the Steppe.
So I’m gonna need you to get your act together. You’re no good to me like this.
Ok, it’s becoming obvious to me that you’re not going to snap out of this on your own. Look, I don’t really know what to do here. You’re just kinda lying there like a lump, and it’s really messing with my plans – I can’t leave without a host, and I can’t make you my host if you just spend all day staring at the wall. You do realise that causing mental illness is like, one of my things? You’re really stepping on my toes here. I don’t want to shlep around a body that’s barely clinging to life already.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’m from a different time, but have you considered dying and possessing the body of your greatest enemy as a form of revenge? No? Ok, just spitballing here – no need to get mad, I’m just saying, that always made me feel better.
Why don’t you call that lovely girlfriend of yours? She reminds me of Leah, a bit – I’m sure she’ll know what to do.
Ok, Hannah, just saying, if I were you, I wouldn’t have led with “the vengeful spirit haunting my apartment thinks I should call you” – what on earth were you thinking?
Look, the 21st century is not a good time to be a vengeful spirit, and it’s an even worse time to start telling people that you think you’re being haunted by a vengeful spirit! So now your girlfriend thinks you’ve completely lost your mind, and you’re just lying there, crying into your pillow. Are you going to, like, do anything about that? Again, I just need to remind you that “dying and possessing your enemy as a vengeful spirit” is an option that is open to you. Dying of a broken heart isn’t any fun – take it from me – and if you’re just going to mope all day, you’re no good to me at all. Either make some room for me in your head or reap your revenge on those who have wronged you. This is just laziness!
Oh, stop crying. I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry your girlfriend said you shouldn’t see each other until you get a handle on your mental health issues. I’m sure that hurt to hear.
Just like. Please chill.
Ok, alright, going through her things – that seems like progress. And it’s great to see you out of bed, it’s been a while. Given that you have declined my only real advice about what to do in a break-up situation – and again, I want to emphasise that possessing your enemy is still on the table here – this seems like a passable second-choice strategy. Nice one.
Oh, wait, no – no, Hannah, what are you doing? I knew your ex was crunchy, but I didn’t realise she was, like, burn-white-sage crunchy. I’m sorry you’re lonely, but really, that won’t help – oh, wait, do you think that burning that will get rid of me? Or is it that it reminds you of her? Because quite frankly, I do not think I’m going to like the answer to either of those questions.
Please stop crying, that isn’t going to work! I’m not that kind of ghost! Also, doesn’t that seem kind of, you know … appropriative? And that shit’s endangered, too. That sounds like a surefire way to summon even more vengeful spirits, and it’s already pretty crowded in here – much as I might like to have the company, you’re kinda my girl, you know? Besides, you live in a one-bedroom apartment, and you’re not exactly a balaboostah, it’s pretty gross in here.
You know, this used to be a nice enough place before those developer schmucks came in and gentrified it and painted everything that weird charcoal grey. Sure, it was packed, and you’d have 10 people crammed in here, but they were happy! They were productive! Food to cook, prayers to sing, the whole nine yards. That was a good space for dybbukim, you know? Lots of people to watch, lots of people to bother – but none of them could help me like you can. It wasn’t exactly prudent for any of them to get on a boat back to the Russian Steppe, there was kind of a whole thing happening.
But you! You’re a modern woman, you have a passport, you don’t really have anything keeping you here, especially now that your girlfriend left you. I know, I know. It’ll be ok. We don’t have to talk about her any more.
You can help me, Hannah. You just need to get it together. I believe in you.
I see you talked to the Rabbi today! Good for you for getting up and leaving the apartment! I mean it, Hannah, way to go – 3 cheers for Hannah! You even put on clean clothes, that’s awesome.
Now, I could have warned you about how that was going to go, but I doubt you’d have listened to me. Rabbis aren’t really in the dybbuk-fighting business any more. Haven’t been for a while – buddy of mine was in this lady’s body in, what was it – the 1870s? The years kinda run together after a while. Anyway, she goes to see a rabbi, right? And she says “Rabbi, help, I think I’ve been possessed by a dybbuk.”
What does he do? He washes his hands of the whole mishegoss, says she needs to see a psychiatrist instead. And that was back when psychiatry was just “take some cocaine and call me in the morning,” so I’m not really surprised that’s what your rabbi recommended, given all the modern treatments. I actually think it’s a good idea – that buddy of mine certainly didn’t mind it, and apparently the lady he was hanging out in – well, let’s just say their relationship improved significantly after that.
So you should definitely do it! I think it could really be good for you. I enjoy our chats, I really do, but you should probably call the doctor. Just – maybe don’t mention me, ok? You saw how your ex reacted to that.
Wow, look at you, huh? You’re doing great, bubbeleh. On meds, exercising, talking to the people you love – I’m so proud of you. You’ve really turned your life around. Good for you for calling your ex, too! I still think that “turning into a vengeful spirit and haunting her for all eternity” was an option there, but your way is probably easier.
You’ve really cleaned up in here, eh? Not just the apartment, although I think we’re both pretty happy about that – seriously, when I first lived in this apartment there were 10 people to a room, and somehow it still smelled better than that. But you! Your head is clear, you’re thinking straight – and really, you look great. I’m sure everyone is really proud of you.
Hey, just a question – while you’re putting away that laundry, could you do some digging for your winter coat? Oh, you don’t need to worry about why. It’s just, we’ve got some business to attend to on the Russian Steppe – and I’m about 100 years late, so we should get a move on.
If you want to get an idea of my mindset writing this, I have two recommendations:
- The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds, by S. Ansky (There are English translations available for purchase, but you can find a PDF if you look hard enough)
- The Unternationale by Daniel Kahn, Psoy Korolenko, and Oy Division – described as “dialectical klezmer cabaret”, the album features old pieces of Yiddish radical music translated into English and Russian and remixed for the modern world. “Oy ir narishe tsionistn”, an almost-straight rendition of a song from 1931, is a personal favourite – featuring the immortal lines “You want to take us to Jerusalem/ So we can die as a nation/ We’d rather stay in the Diaspora/ And fight for our liberation.”