Looking to introduce some younger folks in your life to the famous golem that’s inspired the Jewish folklore for centuries? I thought so.
Last week, Polish cultural organization Odrobina Kultury, released The Golem of Rabbi Elijah, the latest video in a series of animated folkloric shorts drawn from Polish minority cultures entitled Cztery Strony Bajek, or “Four Directions of Fairy Tales.” Co-produced with Polish Yiddish organization Fundacja Jidysz, The Golem of Rabbi Elijah is an adaptation of the classic Golem story, and is available in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish. It’s easy to follow and cute, with bright colors, bits of slapstick, and a golem with glowing eyes whose semblance is equal parts robot and Frankenstein.
We never find out why, exactly, Rabbi Elijah (based on 16th century Rabbi Elijah Ba’al Shem of Chełm) creates his golem, but after all, this is the Golem of Chełm, not the Golem of Prague, with its backdrop of antisemitism and pogroms. If the video seems a little, well, lifeless in its spareness and sincerity, it’s almost fitting: its mostly non-Jewish creators (Polish Rabbi Joel Chaim Nowicki consulted on the project) clearly put a lot of effort into telling this tale faithfully, and with careful attention to its roots.
Coming out of contemporary Poland, where the Jewish population continues to dwindle, the video presents an intriguing vision of Jewish culture as one minority culture among many—Georgian, Roma, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, and Serer folktales round out the Cztery Strony Bajek series. And this isn’t Odrobina Kultury’s first Yiddish animated short; in 2014, they produced Der Gliklecher Mensch (“The Happy Man”), about a king trying to make his daughter happy (it has a brief rendition of the classic Yiddish folk song “Bulbes,” or, “Potatoes”). The entire series is available on Vimeo and YouTube.