January 15, 2004
Q & A With The Golem
Flurries of white flakes gently cascade onto the spires and turrets of Prague's skyline, bringing a color relief to the pink, green and blue painted castles, churches, concert halls and magnificent architecture of everyday buildings.
Above the slippery, snowy cobblestones, past the hundreds of European tourists braving the bitter cold, is the Alte-Neue Shul, or the Old-New Synagogue. A gothic structure built in the 13th century, the synagogue is one of the oldest in Europe, and a central attraction in the old Jewish Quarter of Prague.
Inside the sanctuary, the walls are marked by small peepholes for the women to share in the services (some things never change), and if you look upward, you can see cryptic Hebrew acronyms plastered around the sanctuary. But look closely at the ceiling, and you might notice that it sags in some places; listen and you might hear footsteps coming from above, even though the second floor has been closed off for years.
In the back of the Alte-Neue Synagogue, a rope ladder hangs from a small aperture in the attic. I shimmy up the spiked metal fence, stand atop it and fling myself across a 5-foot space to grab the ladder. Fifteen steps and I am at the window. The opening is too small for me to climb inside. But I can see inside perfectly. And that's when I see it. Him.
The Jewish Journal: Are you The Golem of Prague?
The Golem: No, I'm that other clay creature created by Rabbi Loew, who's been locked up in his shul for 423 years. Of course I'm The Golem.
JJ: Many people say that you're a myth, that you don't exist.
TG: Oh, would that they had seen me in my days of glory! I ruled this town in 1580.
The rabbi was worried about how to his people, so he created me. I wiped out the Jews' enemies -- and a few others who got on my nerves -- but did anyone thank me? No. For this I get sent upstairs. "It will only be for a little while," the rabbi told me. "Until things calm down a bit." And now people have forgotten me.
Ah, the fleeting nature of fame.
JJ: But you are famous, especially in literature and film. Every century someone writes about you. Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" in the 1800s, Gershon Winkler "The Golem of Prague" in the late 1900s and just recently Michael Chabon even won a Pulitzer Prize for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," starring you.
TG: They're all riding on my coattails.
That Frankenstein was an embarrassment: the stitches on his forehead, the green skin, the awkward shuffle. I was in a good mind to sue for copyright infringement, but the guy came and spoke to me directly, asking me to "share the monster wealth" a bit, so I decided to back off. As for Chabon, couldn't get through it -- it's a monster of a book.
JJ: You're everywhere here in Prague.
TG: Actually, I'm about to file a lawsuit against the commercialization of my image here.
JJ: Are you talking about the statue of you? The Golem Mall? The Golem sandwich?
TG: Yes, the mall. They don't even have a major fast-food chain there, no movie theater, no nothing. It's not even housed in a stately architectural structure, like my shul here.
We're actually working on some cross-promotionals with the Golem sandwich. We're in talks with Mickey D's. "The McGolem." What do you think?
JJ: I don't really eat at McDonalds. But I was looking at the statue and wondering if you don't mind being exploited?
TG: Exploited? Listen, lady, I was as happy as a pack of mud could be, lying around, oozing and squishing it up, when the rabbi and his friends gathered me together to form this blob of a guy. I know they wanted me to be intimidating, but couldn't they have made me a bit thinner? More muscular? I guess that just wasn't in vogue back in the 16th century.
They sent me out to kill their enemies, but as soon as I started to have a bit of fun, you know, doing my own thing, the rabbi called me back here.
So if we're going to talk about exploitation, we're going to have to begin a long, long time ago.
JJ: Are you a magical creature? What went wrong?
TG: I was created with kabbalah, not magic. The rabbi, I guess you call him the Maharal, dreamed that God told him how to solve the Jews' problems. The rabbi wrote God's name on a piece of parchment, and placed it in my mouth. That's how I was born. But he couldn't handle the negative PR, I think.
Some people think the rabbi destroyed me, removing the parchment from my mouth, but he just sent me up to this attic. I like to think that he couldn't bear to destroy something that he had a hand in creating.
If you want to know the truth, what's really going on here is a classic tale of a father who couldn't bear to let his son go, who couldn't stand to see me out on my own. My agent presented it to Dreamworks last month as "Shine" meets "Finding Nemo" with a splash of "Dracula " -- but you know, we want to avoid the whole monster thing.
JJ: Um. Good luck with that.
Some people say that the Jewish people today need a Golem. Will you ever roam the streets again?
TG: What do you mean, again? Who do you think saved this synagogue from excessive flooding? (OK, before the water reached the attic.)
I don't really think that the Jews are in any worse trouble than they were in the 1500s; actually, they're much better off than they have been for centuries! (Especially the last one.) But I can feel it, especially in this new millennium: things are getting worse ... but they're still much, much better than ever.
I don't think it's time for me to come out of full retirement just yet, but I do take a little job now and then.
TG: Excuse me, I'm on call tonight. Someone at King Solomon Kosher restaurant is complaining that their soup is too cold. The Golem to the rescue!