Once upon a Friday afternoon, a sharp, cold winter wind was blowing across the roads of Prague. The snowy road was quiet, except for the sounds of the wind rustling autumn’s old leaves, the ones which had escaped being buried under snow, and the footsteps of a girl named Goldileh.
Goldileh watched the leaves rush by and began chasing them, making a game out of catching the biggest among them. She ran alongside the road and chased one particularly large leaf beyond the edge of the city. Here, the road had become a trodden path which continued into a great forest. So, too, continued Goldileh.
Goldileh stopped when she lost sight of the leaf. Breathless, and now cold, she sat down on a flat rock, pulling her coat tightly around her. At that moment she spied a cabin ahead, barely visible among the trees, with only a narrow clearing in front. Goldileh approached the cabin and noticed a post with the name GOLEM. Outside the door were three pairs of dirty boots. The first was a very large pair, the second was a medium-sized pair, and the third was a pair small enough to fit Goldileh!
Goldileh knocked hard on the door. Nobody answered, but the door opened slightly, and she peeked inside. Goldileh called out, but nobody responded, so she took a slow, single step into the front room. She saw piles of firewood in the corner, scraps of paper covering three chairs, and clay toys scattered over the dusty floor. “Oy, what a balagan!” she whispered to herself. Goldileh was curious, and so she closed the door behind her and began to look around the cabin.
Across the floor, Goldileh noticed a table, upon which was placed a folded, white tablecloth and a Siddur. The Golems must be preparing for Shabbes! Goldileh spread the tablecloth over the table and set the Siddur in the middle. Built into one wall was a cabinet with shelves on top, drawers below, and cupboards on the bottom. On the top shelf were three pairs of candlesticks, but the girl couldn’t lift the first pair!
“Oy vey, these are too heavy!” Goldileh declared aloud. The second pair was just the opposite. “Oy gevalt, these are too light!” Goldileh disapproved. “They could fall over with the candles burning and set the tablecloth on fire!” The third pair was shiny and sturdy, and Goldileh cheered “Mazel tov, these are just right!” Goldileh placed the candlesticks on the table along with a pair of white candles she found in one of the drawers.
On the bottom shelf, Goldileh noticed three Kiddush cups. The first Kiddush cup was so enormous that Goldileh thought it could hold an entire bottle of wine! “Oy vey, this is too big!” complained Goldileh. The second cup was so tiny that Goldileh thought it could hold but only a sip of wine. “Oy gevalt, this is too small!” Goldileh whined. The third cup fit very comfortably in Goldileh’s hand. “Mazel tov, this is just right!” she laughed, and she placed it next to the candlesticks.
Goldileh became hungry and wandered into the kitchen, looking for a little nosh. On the counter were a pitcher of water and three nearly-empty bowls of porridge, which Goldileh figured had been the Golems’ breakfast that morning. She spotted a wooden bowl covered with a towel. Goldileh removed the towel to find a ball of dough. She turned over the bowl, and the dough dropped onto the counter with a thud. “Oy vey, this dough is as hard as stone!” Goldileh cried. She put the dough back into the bowl, added a little water from the pitcher to the dough, and began to knead it until the dough became soft… too soft. “Oy gevalt, now this is too sticky,” Goldileh mumbled. She again turned the dough onto the counter, added a little flour she found in the pantry, and again kneaded the dough until it made a soft, smooth ball. “Mazel tov, this is just right!” Goldileh sang, and she divided the dough and braided it into a challah. She covered it and let it rise while she cleaned the kitchen. While the challah baked, Goldileh straightened up the rest of the cabin. After removing the golden-brown challah from the oven, Goldileh covered it with a clean, white cloth and placed it on the table beside the candlesticks and the Kiddush cup. Goldileh returned to the kitchen and busied herself for the remainder of the afternoon.
As the sun was beginning to set in the western sky, the Golems returned home to find the clean cabin, the smell of freshly baked challah, and the table set for Shabbes… but that wasn’t all they found. In the kitchen was a pot of matzah ball soup, brisket, noodle kugel, vegetable tzimmes, and parve babka for dessert! The Golems looked around, but could find no one. Going to their bedrooms to change out of their work clothes and into something nice for Shabbes, they found Goldileh sleeping in the youngest Golem’s bed. Goldileh was exhausted, yet awoke when she sensed the Golems standing over her, and she nervously introduced herself to them. They were silent, and Goldileh feared they must be very angry with her. However, the youngest Golem offered Goldileh his hand, and they invited Goldileh to stay for Shabbes dinner.
Once they were seated, very quietly, Mameh Golem led the blessing over the candles, Tateh Golem led the blessing over the wine, and Young Golem led the blessing over the challah. After dinner, and just the littlest bit of conversation, the Golems walked Goldileh back to her own home, making sure she arrived there safely. After all, Goldileh had welcomed in a beautiful Shabbes for them, and anyway, that was just the kind of family the Golems were. There was a chill in the night air as the four of them walked, and the road was quiet, except for the sound of the snow crunching beneath their feet.
ABOUT THIS STORY
Who is Goldileh?
Goldileh is an imaginary child who may remind you of Goldilocks.
Who are the Golems?
In this story, the Golems are a family living in a cabin in a forest adjacent to the Vltava River. They take the place of “the three bears” in the Goldilocks story. There are many Jewish legends about golems, which were creatures made by rabbis for use as servants and protectors of the Jewish communities. In one legend, around five hundred years ago, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (nicknamed the Maharal) of Prague, is said to have created a golem from the clay of the Vltava (also known as the Moldavka) River. Golems slept all day and worked all night, and they did not speak. They would not have celebrated Shabbat or eaten a Shabbat dinner, but they would have helped the Jews to do so more safely. One of their most important duties was to escort the Jews through the city and protect them from harm.
What are some of
the special words Goldileh uses?
Goldileh is speaking Yiddish. Yiddish was very commonly spoken by the Jewish people who lived in many parts of Europe, including Prague. Goldileh, being a sort of Jewish Goldilocks, would certainly have known Yiddish. Were you able to figure out what the Yiddish words in the story mean?
Balagan (ba-la-GAN) is a mess
Kugel (KU-gel) is a noodle pudding
Mazel tov (MA-zel tov) is congratulations
Nosh is a nibble or a snack
Oy, oy vey, oy gevalt (ge-VALT) is “Oh, no!”
Shabbes (SHAB-bes) is Shabbat
Siddur (SID-dur) is a prayer book
Tzimmes (TZIM-mes) is a sweet side-dish of vegetables and dried fruit cooked together
Parve is food that is made with neither meat nor milk products
Babka (BOB-ka) is a delicious cake-like dessert
Mameh (MAH-meh), Tateh
(TAH-teh) are Mama and Papa
Where is Prague?
Prague, or Praha, is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, which is in central Europe. About 2.3 million people live there and around there, and it is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Prague has been a city for over a thousand years, and Jewish people have always lived there. During the time of the Maharal, Prague was a prosperous city and an important cultural center in Europe, with a population of about 60,000 people. The Vltava River runs through Prague and is the longest river in the Czech Republic.
Do Jewish people live in Prague today?
Yes, there are Jews living in Prague. Prague has an active Jewish community, synagogues, kosher restaurants, Jewish museums, Jewish organizations, and an historic Jewish quarter. The oldest synagogue in Europe still in use today is located in Prague. It is called the Old-New Synagogue and was built in 1270. Coincidentally, this was the synagogue where legend says the Maharal stored his golem after he stopped using it. ✿
Laura Aron Milhander has a background in Jewish Studies and both Jewish and secular education. She and her husband Rabbi Kenneth Milhander are the parents of four children and live in Orange County.