The legend of Joseph the golem, the giant formed from earth and mystically animated by Rabbi Judah Loew to protect the Jewish community in Prague at the end of the sixteenth century, blends history, religion, and fantasy in a tale that has resonated with popular imagination. Watts now gently retells this story from the perspective of the rabbi’s fictional young son, who grows fond of Joseph as the golem patrols the Jewish ghetto. Over three years the clay giant moves with mysterious knowledge. He thwarts a planted baker’s apprentice who would poison matzohs, unmasks a shrill liar in the marketplace, and stops a man from hiding the dead body of a Christian child inside the ghetto to provoke cries of Blood Libel. Joseph’s otherness is also revealed on two humorous occasions when less-vital tasks assigned by others, not by Rabbi Lowe, go Sorcerer’s Apprentice wrong. Watts does not reveal what causes the golem to suddenly rampage with anger that forces the rabbi to put him to sleep. The fourteen chapters each open with a soft, full-page pencil illustration that, along with occasional smaller sketches, evoke the character of the mute, awkward giant, winding ghetto streets, and the affection between the rabbi and his son. Watts offers a lyrical, short novel for children that both makes the golem seem possible and mutes the drama.
Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.