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Golem Legend Returns to Life with Czech, Argentine Backing

October 30, 2002
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One of Prague’s most popular legends sprang to life this month with a series of events celebrating the story of the golem.

According to legend, the golem was a man of clay brought to life in the late 1500s by Prague’s revered Rabbi Judah Loew to protect the Jewish people from persecution. In one telling, Loew had to restore his creation to dust after it went out of control and endangered people’s lives.

Four centuries later, the golem has been given a new lease of life with a joint Czech-Argentine project, “Golem 2002/5763.”

The idea was conceived by Argentine artist and photographer Pedro Roth, who contacted Argentina’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, Juan Eduardo Fleming. Immediately struck with the idea, Fleming helped get the project off the ground.

As part of the golem project, visitors were given the opportunity to watch films and documentaries, as well as theater, opera and ballet performances based on the golem theme.

A one-day seminar was also held, covering topics such as the golem’s place in Jewish tradition, in movies and in Czech and German literature.

Seminar participants included Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Czech Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon and Czech biologist and philosopher Zdenek Neubauer.

All speeches from the daylong seminar will be published next year in Czech and English in a book that will also feature art works inspired by the golem legend.

In addition, an exhibition of “golem art” that was on display in Prague throughout October will move to Buenos Aires next year.

In 2004, it will travel to Tel Aviv and New York.

Argentina is no stranger to the legend. The man of clay was immortalized by prominent Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges in his poem “Golem.”

The poem inspired golem project organizers to produce a first-ever Czech translation of the work.

“We decided to approach Czech University students of Spanish language and literature, and we advertised the competition for the best translation at the beginning of this year,” Fleming said.

Last Friday, Borges’ widow, Maria Kodama de Borges, presented a prize for the best translation of his poem to a Czech student.

According to people who spoke with JTA about the project, the golem legend can be taken as an inspirational or cautionary tale.

Roth said he sees the golem as a symbol of the creativity and human invention.

“It is very important to dream and then make your dreams come true,” he told JTA.

Milos Pojar, director of the Jewish Museum in Prague’s education and culture center, said the golem is a very relevant topic in an era of robots, cybernetics, artificial intelligence and cloning.

“I think that the main message is that we should be careful with our inventions, because they can get out of hand,” Pojar said.

Fleming also sees a darker side to the golem legend.

“It is a reminder that we have to be careful, and we have to avoid passing on the destructive part of us in order not to become self-destructive,” he said.

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