I think about my parents and the fear they endured in 1939 to 1945, the years they lived within the walls of the ghetto established in what had once been their home, their town, and the ensuing time spent in several concentration camps, struggling to stay alive, not knowing if their family members were alive, each breath dependent upon the demonic caprice of their captors. After they were liberated from the camps, at the end of World War II, they learned that their respective spouses and children had not survived. The same for parents, siblings, cousins – all gone; the list went on and was interminable.
IN 1945, they found themselves in a displaced persons camp in Germany with nowhere to go. There was no town, no home, no property left. Twenty-six thousand Jews from their town had died. Very few decided to return. They were unwelcome, their apartments occupied by strangers who had moved in when the Jews were deported. They were unwanted by those back “home” – where could they go? Where were they “wanted”?
My parents were fortunate enough to be admitted into the U.S. as refugees. I won the lottery by being born here and, so, able to experience the freedom and opportunities available to this country’s citizens – a gift I never take for granted.
But what about those who sought entrance to this and other countries in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, who understood the danger that was sweeping across Europe, who desperately sought life elsewhere? Doors swung shut as nations turned their backs on these innocents, actions stemming from fear as well. Fear that arose from the discomfort of living with “others”, from the anticipation that they would have to share with “others” s=and so have less for themselves. After all, they whispered to themselves in a kind of self-justified stupor, perhaps these asylum seekers, these refugees were exaggerating the perils approaching?
A story comes to mind – that of the “Golem”, a creature that was created in the Middle Ages to protect the Jews against a hostile community.
Actually, “golem” is a term used in the Bible as well as Talmudic literature. It refers to an embryonic, incomplete substance, i.e. Adam until God breathed life into him. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that by participating in an act of creating a golem, one became close to God. So it was written that one could create a creature from a substance such as clay and bring it to life by affixing a combination of letters in the form of a sacred word onto its forehead or on a piece of paper that was then placed in its mouth. For example, by writing the name of God, or, alternatively, the Hebrew letters aleph, mem and tav on its forehead – the word meaning “emet” or “truth” – the creature would come to life. By erasing the aleph, you were left with mem and tav – the word for “death”. The creature would then collapse.
The creature would serve its creator by doing tasks assigned to it. The most well-known story involving this creature (other than Mary Shelley’s take on it with her tale of Frankenstein) is the Golem of Prague, circa 1580. Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel made a golem out of clay in order to protect his community and help out by performing physical labor. Eventually, the golem flew into a rage and ran amok, threatening innocent lives. The Rabbi erased the name of God on its forehead, rendering the golem lifeless.
The pervasive theme running throughout the golem stories is that, while created with good intentions, the golem inevitably takes on a life of its own, becomes uncontrollable and, in the end, must be destroyed.
The golem mirrors the fears and anxieties of a populace. It is a means of protection against a perceived threat that eventually morphs into a threat of its own.
And so we come to the infamous “wall” to be built across the southern border of our country. Isn’t this wall a form of a golem, a barrier of clay built to protect against a perceived threat of “others” (immigrants) who will diminish our supply of goodies?
Doesn’t this barrier fly in the face of the tenets upon which this country was built? Is this not a nation founded by immigrants looking for a better, safer life? Do we not need a refuge in a world of humans who too readily inflict pain on one another? I understand Americans ask whether we should be our brother’s keeper. But, if not us, then who?
Think about the imagery of the hedge of thorns described in the fairy tales we read growing up. This barricade sprouts up due to a spell cast by an evil spirit and surrounds a palace whose inhabitants are either asleep or held captive. With every year, the hedge grows higher until it engulfs the palace so there is nothing left to be seen. It takes an individual of courage to hack through the brambles and free or awaken the occupants within.
This wall, this golem, will take on a life of its own. It will become a barrier to compassion and informed judgment. It will consume our air and sunlight. It will eventually become this country’s coffin. This was not the intent of those who built this nation. We are no longer living in the middle ages – we should no longer need to create a golem against imagined menaces. What we need is enlightened discourse.
And, of course, in these troubled times, we need comfort food – and what can be better than my mother’s recipe for noodle kugel.
½ cup cooked noodles
1 stick margarine
1 can crushed pineapples
2 apples (diced)
½ cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Raisins (to taste)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a deep baking dish. Cook noodles per directions. Drain the noodles. Place margarine in a bowl and add the hot noodles, allowing the margarine to melt. In another bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla. Pour mixture on top of noodles and mix. Add raisins, pineapple, apples and salt and mix again. Pour noodle mixture into greased dish and bake for 40-50 minutes or until just golden on top.