2020-2021 Season,  Illusionary Tales

Faith Community Connections

by Cameron Cox, dramaturg

In the second of BYU’s Illusionary Tales, Such A Time As This written by James Goldberg, the audience is introduced to Hadassah Loew, a woman born and raised in a community of faith who has since left it. Hadassah’s Hassidic faith community has striking parallels to aspects of our faith community here at Brigham Young University. Hadassah’s relationship to her faith community will undoubtedly sound familiar to some in our audience and her journey in Such A Time As This may seem familiar as well.

As a Mormon with strong Sikh and Jewish family roots, I feel strongly about the ways the stories we choose to cherish shape our world. I’m particularly aware of the power of religious storytelling. They’ve fueled movements for a better world.
– James Goldberg, Playwright of
Such A Time As This 

A Golem statue in the city of Prague.

Hadassah explores her family’s Jewish heritage, looking to the story of The Golem of Prague as a source of comfort and protection. The ancient Jews viewed Rabbi Loew’s creation of the Golem and its protection of the Czech citizens as a signal of God’s love, and resultantly modern-day Prague is full of depictions of the Golem that saved its Jewish citizens. These take the form of statues, mosaics, shop names/signs, and tourist souvenirs. 

The Golem, in mosaic form on the streets of Prague.

Similarly, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we have a rich history of memorializing events where divine intervention was used to save our people.

From The ChurchofJesusChrist.org:

The first Latter-day Saints to enter the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847 immediately set to work preparing the dry soil for a spring harvest. As the crops grew that spring, they looked thick and green, and farmers anticipated a rich yield. Tragically, however, swarms of crickets descended on the fields in late May 1848, threatening to destroy much of the pioneers’ potential food supply. Farmers watched as the crickets devoured acres of grain and vegetables. Many prayed that the Lord would deliver them from the infestation.

In early June large flocks of California gulls swept the valley, feasting on the crickets. The number of gulls at first frightened many of the farmers, who feared another calamity may have struck their vulnerable crops. But soon they watched the gulls gorge on crickets, drink water, regurgitate the indigestible parts, and return for more. Although the cricket infestation lingered for another few weeks, the gulls had consumed enough to mitigate the damage.

“Miracle of the Gulls” by Jack Vigos

Commemorating the miraculous appearance of the seagulls saving the crops of the early pioneers have been dozens of paintings, and the seagull has become an important piece of contemporary Latter-Day Saint iconography. Somewhat ironically, the California seagull has even been named the Utah state bird. 

While Hadassah’s Hassidic Jewish faith community and culture have a longer and perhaps richer history than ours as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are a plethora of ways in which we can see aspects of our experience in a faith community with a rich history in her story. Look out for these as you tune in to BYU’s Illusionary Tales running Oct. 29th-31st at 7:00 PM.

6 Comments

  • Ty Hawton

    I was wondering how the golem protected the Jewish people of Prague, was he a physical defender, a spiritual defender, maybe a bit of both, or something else entirely?

    • Cameron R Cox

      Great question!

      The most common answer is that the Golem was strictly a physical defender of the Prague ghetto from pogroms (violent massacres aimed at the expulsion of Jews). In some versions of the story he has the additional powers of invisibility and summoning spirits in order to to aid in this protection. Historically instances of the Golem narrative arising do not have the creatures as possessing any sort of intelligence: when commanded they perform a task and the instructions literally. There are few instances of Golems gaining any sort of sentience (Often them falling in love) and those tales always end with a murderous rampage.

  • Sydney Southwick

    This is such a helpful background for this play! I love when we can find connections between our own faith and that of others. Sometimes when talking about religion, I think we are searching for differences between our beliefs that set us apart from one another, but I think we have more in common than we immediately think! When I was on a study abroad in London, we visited a Jewish synagogue and my professor asked us to pay attention to one thing we found that the LDS faith and Judaism have in common and one thing they do that we thought would be a good addition to our worship. I loved that the man who spoke to us focused on the importance of family.

    • sgraham

      Thanks for this comment, Sydney! I agree, that it’s wonderful to find commonalities. And I feel like that might be especially important right now during a time of so much divisiveness in our communities!

  • Amity Wootan

    I found it striking that, in this particular performance, the Golem was portrayed by a human actor. Where a lot of historical imagery of the Golem is of an unthinking machine, and (as this article notes) in static imagery, I think the humanization of the Golem on this stage ties into Hadassah’s final action. She embodies the role of the Golem, and ultimately must become the protector of her people. It speaks a lot to the community action and organization of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as similar community actions across the globe in our current political landscape, and I believe serves as a call to action for the audience to become protectors as well.

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