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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