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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) (02/19/09)

TITLE: Smitten
By Jan Ackerson


In the early 1600s, Rabbi Loew of Prague—dismayed that emperor Rudolph II had ordered the Jews to be expelled from Prague or killed—fashioned a golem out of air, fire, water, and mud from the Vltava’s riverbanks. This golem—a monster of clay—protected Prague’s Jews from Rudolph’s terrible soldiers, given life through the power of the mysterious Word written on its forehead. When the emperor finally beseeched the rabbi to have pity and destroy the golem, Rabbi Loew smudged out the Word with his thumb. The golem lies silent now in a Czech attic, waiting to be brought to life should the Jews of Prague need its protection again.

This is the story of the golem—while the soldiers slept.


Ivanka swept the last bit of dust from her floor into the alleyway. As she turned to step back inside, a shadow blocked the setting sun. Oy vey! So soon he’s back? She turned to greet the caster-of-shadows with a forced smile. “Home already, nu?”

The golem—for that’s what had darkened the sky—picked Ivanka up and gently set her on the cobbled street. “Golem hungry,” he said as he ducked under the doorway and into the house. At each step, chunks of dried clay fell onto Ivanka’s previously spotless floor.

Ivanka wearily leaned her broom against the wall and followed the golem inside.

“So, did you smite the no-goodniks? Of course you did…always with the smiting, smiting…” She edged past the golem, who was standing solidly in the middle of the small room. Taking up a wooden bowl, Ivanka ladled out a portion of something savory from a pot bubbling over the fire.

“Golem hungry!” The golem reached past the proffered bowl and took the pot from its iron hanger, slurping down the contents. A hot, earthy odor, like baking bricks, filled the room.

Ivanka looked from the bowl in her hand to the golem. “Oy, such messy eating! You’ve got some shmutz—here, let me get it, such a schlemiel you are.” Setting the bowl on a nearby table, she reached out and removed a steaming carrot and a chicken wing from the golem’s clay lips. Then, hands on hips, she studied the golem, still standing in the same spot. “What’s this?” She tugged at some bits of metal lodged in the golem’s muddy skin. A broken bit of sword clattered to the floor, and then a fragment of a steel helmet. “Feh!…don’t bring such things into my clean house, how often have I said it…” She tossed the metal into a corner, onto a knee-high pile of shiny fragments.

A yellow butterfly flitted through the open window. “Pretty!” said the golem, and he took a heavy step toward it, reaching out with a sausage-like gray finger. His arm brushed a small shelf, sending an earthenware mug crashing down.

“Stop!” cried Ivanka, and the golem slowly lowered his arm. “Oy, such a klutz! That’s the third one you’ve broken this week. Can’t you once in your life be still?”

The golem stood still, but his eyes followed Ivanka around the room.

After several minutes of bustling and mumbling, Ivanka finally looked at the golem. “Oh, sit down, would you? You’re making me mishegas. And stop staring at me, I feel like you’re about to smite me.” The golem stepped heavily toward the only seat in its range of vision—a smallish wooden chair with an embroidered cushion.

“Not that chair!” Ivanka rushed forward and turned the golem toward a sturdy log bench. “Sit here, and why don’t you…” She looked desperately around the cottage, then picked up a large bowl and a wooden pestle. “Pound this wheat, nu? Wait! Gently, remember? Gently.” She backed away and sank into her own chair, closing her eyes while the room resounded with a steady thunk…thunk…thunk.

After several minutes, the golem stopped pounding and listened to a new sound in the room—the quiet intake of Ivanka’s snoring, accompanied by a tiny, nasal whistle. He stood and shuffled slowly to where she slumped, sleeping, and he bent his face near hers, letting puffs of her breath waft over his clay face.

The golem reached behind his right ear and probed for a moment. When he brought his hand forward, it was grasping a small red flower, drooping and covered in grayish clay. He dropped the flower in Ivanka’s lap and then straightened up, his gaze never leaving her form. He stood there, unmoving, throughout the long night.

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This article has been read 1238 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Shirley McClay 02/26/09
Wow... this was incredibly creative! Is this based on a real fable? Haunting...
Chely Roach02/26/09
First of all, I am a sucker for good titles; I am in awe of the parallelism of the title. Perfect. I was touched by the relationship of the two characters...it was a tender story with an appropriate dash of humor. Loved it.
Mona Purvis02/27/09
This really held my interest. Very well-written. Very creative fable.
Joanne Sher 02/28/09
Wonderful characterization, and excellent use of dialect and Yiddish to set the scene and characters. Fascinating piece.
Sonya Leigh02/28/09
What a typical mother-son relationship these two have...and I'm left thinking about the research and creativity of this author. It is truly off the charts---as you think out of the box like this, you pass it on to the rest of us. Thanks.
Lyn Churchyard03/02/09
Brilliant! Loved everything about this. The little bits of Yiddish just completed the wonderful picture you have woven.
Gerald Shuler 03/02/09
I loved every word of this. Based on entries, Europe seems to have an abundance of legendary creatures! But the love interest really made this one rise to the top. Great writing.
Yvonne Blake 03/02/09
Very Interesting!
I love legends and folklore. I never heard of this one.
I love your "accent" and Jewish words tossed in for flavor.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/02/09
I'm glad you don't leave your talent going to waste! You provide so much pleasure with your creativity. This fascinating story is a delight.
Margaret Gass03/02/09
Fascinating perspective, but it was your attention to details that made this entry extraordinary: spots of mud on the floor and her continual need to sweep indicating his continual watch over her; a hot, earthy smell like baking bricks; the MC gently steering the golem to a sturdy chair...wonderful! I could smell chicken soup mingled in as well, because of those pieces of carrot and chicken. Well done!
Connie Dixon03/02/09
"No-goodniks?" Ha! I loved this story - especially with the explanation at the beginning. Awesome writing, indeed!
Sara Harricharan 03/02/09
Cute. I like the 'fantasy' kind of element you gave to it and I wished it was longer so that I could've seen how their possible relationship might have played out. Fun!
Carol Slider 03/02/09
What a great story, every word of it, and what a great beginning it would be for a novel about the Jews of Prague! Exceptional writing!
Joshua Janoski03/02/09
So many wonderful entries this week, and this is among the best of them! I loved this fantasy tale, and my only complaint is that I wanted to keep reading more. This is definitely a piece worth expanding on. Awesome job with this!
Norma-Anne Hough03/03/09
really loved this awesome story.
Sheri Gordon03/03/09
Sooo creative--as always. I love the golem--you gave him a great personality. My favorite part is when he went to sit on the fancy chair...I pictured his poor, dejected face. Great job.
Diana Dart 03/04/09
I'm a bit confused about what a golem is (and how a rabbi could make one), but I really think that's just me... everyone else seemed to get it (blushing). The Jewish phrases were so authentic and the tiny details just put the reader right there in the kitchen with them. Kinda sorry that I don't quite get the fantasy element...
Gregory Kane03/04/09
I think this is a great story. It's really well written and researched. And I love the genre. It's just that it leaves me feeling a bit sad. Medieval Judaism abandoned the literal meaning of the Scriptures and embraced a myriad of competing interpretations, including the numerology and black magic of the kaballists. Essentially the legend of the golem comes from this source - the Jews had rejected the power of the Messiah and thus had to look elsewhere for salvation from their enemies. Thank God that modern day Judaism seems to have moved away from such diabolical lunacy.