The Taming of Wolf, by Alizah Teitelbaum
Illustrated by Daniel Kabakoff
1. The Damsel
Naturally, since the last smashup, Dad kept an eye on her. But he didn’t need to; Ita had changed.
All week during Hanukkah she did not once doze off as in previous years; this time she stared long
and hard into the flames until they flickered out. She felt the light healing her soul and her
fears. She was not afraid of Wolf any more at all, despite what happened. On the contrary, she was
starting to realize that she had all the power and Wolf had nothing but impulses. In fact, he was afraid of her.
Early next morning, while Dad snored, Ita dashed out of bed. She unlatched the cage and coaxed
Wolf to tramp after her, muzzled of course, into the forest.
Ita understood things; she knew that Wolf was hungry, for example. She tied a rope to Wolf’s neck
and walked him through the dandelions and wild mustard that grew at the forest’s edge to collect
roots and leaves in a bundle. Ita knew that Wolf hated roots and wanted meat and broke into houses
to get it; of course, he longed to do it again…HEY! What the…Wolf lunged and knocked Ita to the
“ANIMAL!” She screamed.
To her surprise, Wolf’s ears dropped; his forehead furrowed, his eyes cast down and his tail hung
Dad scrambled after them, dragging his wagon. “Get away from that dog! Are you crazy?” He
“Sorry,” she said, wiping dirt from her stockings.
Dad yanked the rope out of her hand and tied Wolf to a tree. While Dad drew water from the stream,
Ita gathered her thoughts. She fed the dog a breakfast of dandelion roots and wild mustard,
intending to teach his canine teeth not to wound, grab and kill; to teach the back teeth not to
crush bones and chew big chunks of meat, and the front teeth not to pull people’s skin. Rather,
Wolf’s teeth should behave like the teeth of a sheep: incisors to pick grass and molars to mildly
When the dog had eaten his fodder, Ita picked up a stick, scrooched down and engraved on a damp
patch of dirt the letter alef. She glanced up and saw that she had Wolf’s attention.
“A Hebrew letter” she said to Wolf, “can transform an ignoble animal into a magnificent man.
Dad returned with the water and frowned. “Leave that dog alone!”
Ita backed off. “Alef, alef, alef, Wolf. Say it!”
“Aaooo!” howled Wolf.
“Yes!” Ita cheered. “Say it again!”
Ch-thunk! This was Dad’s axe.
“Aaooo!” howled Wolf again.
All morning until lunchtime, Ita taught Wolf to articulate and modulate his consonants. She coaxed
out vowels; diphthongs and gutturals, intending all the while to grind the animal part into pieces
and create him anew.
Next day the letters Ita had drawn in the dirt were gone, washed away in the evening rain. Wolf
sniffed at the place.
His wolf-like recitation of the bet, gimel, daled and hay, continued as the sun moved westward.
Dad loaded the newly-cut logs into the wagon, tied the wagon to a rope and the rope to Wolf’s neck.
This way he would subdue and make use of him for once. “Stop that howling or I’ll whack you,” he
The dog howled and howled. Ita fumbled for the muzzle and rope. Dad frowned and reached for the
axe; it was somewhere in the wagon. When he looked up, though, Wolf was gone.
“See what your lessons came to!” Dad said. “Wolf is on the loose, and a whole day’s work is lost!”
Ita resisted the urge to talk back. She knew the dog had aced the letters and didn’t need a
muzzle, rope or axe.
Wolf’s 42 teeth were slowly but surely amalgamating into a human-like speech mechanism.
Wolf was free at last. His lungs, part human, part animal, aired his heart like wings. He could
smell the damsel, no matter how far he ran. He wanted to lick her face, that’s all. He bumbled
ahead, afraid he might not find her and more afraid if he did.
Before sunrise Wolf heard the damsel calling, “Wolf! Wolf!” He raised his eyes, the better to see
her ahead of him in the forest. Wolf jumped with super-animal force, opening his jaws wide. “Aaooo!
And then, something strange happened: By sounding the alef his 42 teeth fused into a humanized
He was already in mid-dive when a kooky feeling of kindness took hold of Wolf. He suddenly knew
that a speck of good existed inside him. In the split moment between heaven and earth Wolf knew
that, even if he would eat only earthworms and garbage, he would forever guard this spark—it was in
there! With a yap bold and reckless and believing he steered himself clear of the damsel, though
the only alternate place to crash was a solid old oak tree.
And so, Wolf crashed and fell the kind of fall that clears the way for a magnificent take-off.
3. The Detective
Zindel the Detective suffered constant squabbles in his marriage: his young wife Ita saw only
good and he saw only bad.
To make matters worse, Zindel was growing old and still had no children. People said it was Wolf’s
fault. Ita said it was Zindel. Since everything that came to him was bad in his eyes, it was clear
as a bell that only bad things came to him.
Zindel’s finest quality was to keep silent under many bad happenings, like living with no respect,
no money, no work, no friends, no place to go shopping, no schools, no children.
He might never have a baby; it petrified him. He felt empty in his stomach, and he knew this was
loneliness, and the reason was that he never looked kindly on anyone.
The Detective closed his eyes to see into the past, a knack he’d picked up long ago from his
father-in-law. Why didn’t Ita give birth? What was the cause? Again, he closed his eyes. Ah.
That Wolf was a devil, and he was still on the loose.
When Zindel’s father-in-law left this world, he gave Zindel an abracadabra against nonstop
criminals. Zindel thought that old bit of mumbo-jumbo was stupid, worn out and a little risky. He
had never thought of trying it, but now he had no choice.
Zindel’s feet carried all the brainy parts of his body into the forest. He arrived at Wolf’s door
minutes before the holy Shabbat, leaving no choice but to stay no matter what.
Zindel waited there on Wolf’s doorstep, steeling himself for the dog to open the door, and then
Zindel would deliver the biting prayer that Wolf in turn would swallow; it would stick in the
animal’s throat and then all the sparks of goodness the dog had swallowed would be vomited out.
It would be unpleasant, but if he wanted a baby it had to be done.
Zindel pulled a hood over his ears to protect them from any bad words that might fall from the
dog. He knocked on the door.
A shadow appeared in the window and then the shutters slammed with a bang.
Zindel stood in the snow and waited. His heart filled with rage. That dog was an animal…cruel…how
could he leave a human being in the cold on the holy Shabbat? This Wolf had the heart of a
beast…Zindel opened his mouth to intone the prayer, and to his dismay the words got stuck in his
throat, and years and years of cracked down souls began to erupt from his throat…STOP!
Zindel woke up in a sweat, in a strange bed.
“I am Wolf,” said the gray-bearded man standing over him. “I know why you’re here.”
For the first time in Zindel’s life, he felt, strangely, no need to accuse. Why should he, when the
face in front of him shone like the face of an angel?
Zindel remained in Wolf’s house until nightfall, when a crowd of villagers gathered with torches,
peering at the hut to uncover whatever bad was in there. Zindel slipped out the back door and
walked the two kilometers home to his wife.
Late that summer a baby boy sprang out of the womb, exactly in Zindel’s image. When people saw
this, they walked to the forest in threes, tens, multitudes, suddenly sure that Wolf was a master
of holiness, a miracle worker, a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
Later that day, Wolf passed away as hidden people tend to do when someone uncovers their
And Ita, the Detective’s wife, heard a familiar voice peep from the baby’s throat, a great
mystery. Understand well. She named the baby “Wolf”.