Jewish Journal

A Boy and His Golem

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Aug. 9, 2001 at 8:00 pm

"Snow in August" is an offbeat TV movie, part gritty reality and part fantasy, at the center of which is the curious friendship between an Irish Catholic altar boy and a refugee rabbi in post-World War II Brooklyn.

The two-hour production, based on the 1997 best-seller by Pete Hamill, airs Sunday, Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. on Showtime.

The year is 1947 and the main topic of conversation in Brooklyn between Michael Devlin and his parochial school buddies is the batting average of Jackie Robinson, just signed by the Dodgers as the first black player in baseball's major leagues.

Devlin lives in borderline poverty with his mother, an Irish war bride whose husband -- Devlin's father -- was killed in the war.

In the mean streets outside, a gang of Irish toughs terrorizes the neighborhood and kills a Jewish storekeeper, a crime witnessed by Devlin. The Irish code against "squealing" keeps the secret bottled up in the boy.

In an odd encounter, Devlin meets Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a Holocaust survivor and widower from Prague, who hires the boy as a Shabbos goy.

The unlikely friendship between the two ripens, and in some welcome humorous interludes, Devlin tries to teach the rabbi English, especially baseball terminology ("What's a three-bagger?" asks Hirsch. "A kind of suitcase?")

In return, the rabbi teaches the boy Yiddish and tells him the legend of the golem, who defended the Jews of Prague in the 16th century.

When the gang leader threatens the life of Devlin and his mother, the boy can think of only one protector -- he must create his own golem.

Director-screenwriter Richard Friedenberg has drawn sensitive performances from Stephen Rea, a Protestant Irishman, as the dignified and tormented rabbi; Peter Tambakis as a boy carrying a heavy responsibility; and from Lolita Davidovich as his widowed mother.

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