Observations from the Threshold 2

[I am in Praha/Prague (Praha means “threshold” in Czech) in the Czech Republic. The next few posts are some random observations.]

Next to my hotel stands the Golem of Prague. He is six feet tall, a full two feet short of the original. Perhaps clay settles over so many centuries. I’m only in my sixties and I have already lost inches in height (though I have gained these inches in width).

One reason I came to Prague was to meet this fellow. Yesterday I visited the Altneu Shul from where he defended the Jewish ghetto (then there was no other kind of ghetto) from the attack of Christians whose Prince of Peace and God of Love set them to murder the Jews in their midst, and in whose attic he rests unconscious.

I feel sad for my Golem. He has been reduced from Defender of the Jews to a marketing icon for the city. I am also saddened that the stories Czech guides tell of him (I eavesdropped on several English, French, and Hebrew speaking tours) conveniently ignore the Jew-hatred that made him necessary and focus instead on silly tales of mayhem that, according to the guides, eventually cause his creator, Rabbi Loew, to unmake him.

True, there are such stories, but they are not the important ones. And it is also true that all three guides told a more modern story of how the Nazis sought to capture him, and how he killed the lone soldier sent up into the attic of the synagogue to fetch him, and that after that no Nazi dared disturb him. But even here things are tame. No mention is made of the 80,000 Czech Jews murdered by the Nazis, and no wondering about why the Golem was content to kill but one Nazis when he could have slaughtered them all.

The Golem raises questions for both Jews and those who hunt us, or at least their descendants here in Prague. But perhaps it is better not to indulge in such questioning. It tarnishes the image the city is trying so hard to project.

And it is a beautiful city. And I would like to forget about the past. But for me—and for most Jews my age and older—its just isn’t past enough.

So I walked back the synagogue at night, and stared up at the ladder leading to a small door opening into the third floor attic, and thought about how I could scale the wall and climb the ladder, and draw the Hebrew word emet (truth) on the Golem’s forehead and… And what? Unleash him on the tour guides? Lucky for them I am too old to scale walls, and too frightened even in my youth of going to jail for doing so.

Instead I contented myself with whispering up to him through the walls, and bought a two-inch ceramic golem for myself. I doubt he will be of much use against today’s Nazis.


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