New Voices: “Not Dead. Yet, (Golem Father)” by Nathan Szajnberg

October 5, 2020

In “Not Dead. Yet, (Golem Father)” by Nathan Szajnberg, this week’s New Voices entry, Szajnberg reflects on his father’s life, a survivor of Auschwitz, in the years since his mother’s death. “My father does not live in America,”  Szajnberg writes. “Never did. Only his body, a Golem, roams its streets.”

At night, the guard would let me clean the floors on my knees. Then, polish them with sandpaper. For this, he would give me the privilege to dish out the soup next day. Why, you ask, a privilege? If you dish out the soup, you get the scoops from the bottom with more solids. Sometimes I had enough even for two bowls for myself. I shared one with the guy in the bunk above, even though he would delouse at night and drop the lice down on me. Where I learned from polishing floors on your knees!? From Kemp.”

Kemp. He was a guest of the Nazis in Auschwitz.

“I go nowhere without de mamme!” my father—tatte he prefers—proclaims, your mother, stubbied index finger poking, tattooing the heavens above. Restaurants, dinner parties? Not unless they go together, “Mit de mamme!”  Movies, for sure, not without her. Concerts, of course not. Baseball games, never…even with her.  To shul only, each morning 6:45 a.m. alone he drives, weaving crabwise around manhole covers to protect the car shocks. Alone.

Ten years ago, she died.

“Come to California to visit me,” I ask. And I dare not add, “To alleviate your loneliness.“

“Not without your mamme!”

She, now dead ten years, moldering.

My father does not live in America. Never did. Only his body, a Golem, roams its streets.

The Golem was sculpted by a medieval rabbi—Judah Loew ben Bezalel, who was the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague. Bezalel, his patronym, means “in the shadow of God,” named after the First Temple’s architect, who hid in the shadow of God as He intoned the dimensions of the Temple. This Pragueish Rav Bezalel made from clay and mud of the River Vistula the Golem. Placed the name of God in his lips, which brought him to near-life. Like God breathing into Adam’s nostrils.  But the Golem goes awry, wreaks havoc on the Jews, regrets his life, which is snatched from his lips by the Rabbi. “Why,” the Golem might have wondered but could not speak, “Why did you give me life?”

In 1951, my father arrived from a German Displaced Persons Camp to Rochester, NY, home to Kodak, later, even Xerox, where he stayed to this very day.  Xerox moved to Greenwich, Ct.; Kodak collapsed into itself, like some dying star, of its own weight. But, my tatte roams, haunts, emptied streets.

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