Once upon a time, Bubbe Sara told Mitzi, as that’s how stories are done, there was a city called Prague. There’s still a Prague, not so different from how it is now but so long ago, nonetheless.
In Prague, their people were under a siege by those who hated them for reasons they could not understand, maybe for no other reason other than being different. Maybe that’s all it takes to go crazy. But one of the teachers there, Rabbi Loew, had magic as Sara had, as Mitzi may someday have. The rabbi decided to use it to defend Prague’s ghetto, despite an angel’s warning how that power wasn’t meant to linger on Earth. Even the most scrupulous self-defense quickly devolves into sinful revenge. Extraordinary forces beg opposite reaction. Divine power runs wild if relied upon. Unintended consequences and destruction will inevitably follow behind.
Not unlike that Hopi magician’s curse on what became our mirage oasis Los Angeles, I guess.
But his people’s peril was in his mind too great. He tapped into ritual, called upon the power of God through various angels, bargained and conjured until he created a weapon for his people. A giant crudely-formed man, made of mud and divinity, eight feet tall, inhuman strong, no thought beyond violence. On its chest, the holy word for “truth”. Loew called this monstrosity a “golem”.
For a time, it did defend the Jews of Prague from the hate, repelled the bigotry and injustice. But the longer the golem remained, the stronger it became, the harsher its vengeance. Some warned Loew how terrifying it was, how it punished their oppressors more harshly than they could ever imagine. He said it didn’t matter. All that mattered was they were protected, and if not, avenged.
One day, one of those who hated them pierced the golem’s chest with their sword, mangling the writing on his chest, turning their word for “truth” into their word for “death”. That golem then turned on them all, Jew and oppressor alike, killing everyone nearby. Indiscriminate bloodshed.
Some say, Bubbe said, the rabbi used up his connection to God and God’s magic undoing that horrible mistake. Some say, she told little Mitzi, unmaking the golem killed Rabbi Loew dead.
If you learn this magic, she told her, you must also learn how to use it judiciously, keep it like a secret, never ask too much of it or else you can’t know what it will do. Mitzi would mostly listen to her grandmother’s words, except the time she tried to make a shallowly beautiful man love her despite not being perfect. And, of course, when she used it to save Frank Yetti’s life.
But when she was a girl of just ten, upon hearing the story she just said “Israel.” “What?” her Bubbe Sara asked. “The golem,” the little girl said, “it sounds like how you described Israel.”
Sara didn’t know what to say in response, especially to a child. All she could do was softly nod.