Back­ground pho­to by Sven Beck­er on Unsplash

Chap­ter 3 – Avu Iz Mayn Shmok

Len scratched the sur­face of his golem, bend­ing over the supine form with a wood­en chop­stick in his hand and etch­ing the Hebrew let­ters into the golem’s heavy, clum­si­ly made brow. He checked his work fre­quent­ly against the trans­la­tion web­site open on his lap­top, bal­anced atop the golem on the cement part of the back­yard. Hebrew was not a lan­guage Len knew; he had grown up obser­vant only in the sense that he noticed things.

The golem’s body was chun­ked with slabs of mus­cle up and down its four-hun­dred-pound, nine-and-a-half-foot length. Len was immense­ly proud of the golem’s shoul­ders, which were fil­i­greed with remark­ably real­is­tic-look­ing stri­a­tions along the del­toids. The hands were art­less, and the feet looked like a pair of cin­derblocks the golem had decid­ed to wear as bed­room slip­pers. The face was bru­tal and ama­teur­ish, but expres­sive — the broad lips eager to peel back in a snarl or a laugh, the deep-set eyes odd­ly cagey and alert. The ears looked like actu­al clumps of sun-bleached dog shit that some­one had decid­ed to glue to a human head, but they were Len’s eighth attempt at ears and enough was enough.

It was dark now, and Len’s only break had been four hours ago, to wolf down a take­out con­tain­er of pad see ew while scour­ing the inter­net for pho­net­ic Eng­lish ren­der­ings of the incan­ta­tions and secret names of God he need­ed to recite to fill the golem’s lungs — Len had not made lungs — with the breath of life. Nat­u­ral­ly, there was no con­sen­sus to be found on which prayers were the prop­er ones or which secret names were real. Len thought high­ly of his abil­i­ty to dis­cern good infor­ma­tion from bad, but whether those skills trans­lat­ed to the are­na of online Jew­ish mys­ti­cism was yet to be deter­mined. He had tak­en his best shot: spo­ken what might be the right words, walked the pre­scribed num­ber of cir­cles around his cre­ation, mixed his own blood with dirt from a ceme­tery and dipped his chop­stick in the gunk and used it to scrawl the all-impor­tant let­ters, the last of which he was com­plet­ing now.

Tech­ni­cal­ly, the dirt wasn’t from a ceme­tery, just a cor­ner of the yard. But what was a ceme­tery? Just a place where some­thing dead was buried, and a bee or worm or dinosaur had almost cer­tain­ly died here at some point in his­to­ry and decom­posed into this soil. This log­ic, like the golem’s anatom­i­cal­ly pre­cise shoul­ders, suf­fused Len with pride. What was Judaism if not an exact­ing, total­ized sys­tem of laws hand­ed down by the divine, then kit­ted out with redun­dan­cies and fail-safes by the schol­ars to elim­i­nate any chance of an infrac­tion — build­ing a wall around the Torah, it was called, the process by which don’t cook a goat in its mother’s milk bal­looned into nev­er mix dairy with meat, buy two sets of dish­es, wash them in dif­fer­ent dish­wash­ers—and then, final­ly, poked full of loop­holes so the devout might obe­di­ent­ly cir­cum­vent those laws?

Len fin­ished his work, sat back on his haunch­es, rolled his aching neck, and waited.

Five min­utes passed, and noth­ing hap­pened. Len remind­ed him­self that he didn’t actu­al­ly expect any­thing to, and not because the dirt was improp­er­ly sourced or his pen­man­ship was sus­pect, but because he didn’t believe in any of this shit. He stood, dust­ed him­self off, and went inside to grab a beer and text Waleed, see if he was in the neighborhood.

He drank the neck off his beer and thought about the obscure­ly revolt­ing phrase drank the neck off his beer, as he did every sin­gle time he drank a beer because he’d once read a hacky detec­tive nov­el that employed it when­ev­er a char­ac­ter drank a beer, and every­body in that book was an alco­holic. He drank the chest and stom­ach off his beer, then star­tled when he heard a noise out­side that sound­ed like a mon­ster pound­ing a gran­ite fist against a tiled Moroc­can table and smash­ing it to smithereens.

Len deposit­ed his beer in the sink just as The Golem ripped his back door off the hinges and flung it aside.

Holy shit,” said Len, as The Golem ducked into the apart­ment and lurched toward him. And all at once, Len real­ized that while he had been care­ful to make sure the bot­toms of his golem’s feet were per­fect­ly aligned, he had neglect­ed to real­ly think about where each leg began, how it fused into the hip, and the result of this neg­li­gence was a pro­nounced limp, per­haps even a dysplasia.

Len scratched the sur­face of his golem, bend­ing over the supine form with a wood­en chop­stick in his hand and etch­ing the Hebrew let­ters into the golem’s heavy, clum­si­ly made brow.

The Golem galumphed to a stop in front of Len, and a pair of eye­balls pushed for­ward through the milky vacan­cy of his sock­ets, like the answer cube float­ing to the sur­face of a Mag­ic 8 Ball.

The Golem closed his eyes. Len did not remem­ber pro­vid­ing him with eyelids.

When he opened them, the eye­balls had anchored them­selves. The Golem’s ink-black pupils dilat­ed, and he seemed to take Len’s measure.

Hi,” said Len, sti­fling a surge of pan­ic. I, uh I made you.”

The Golem’s brow fur­rowed and roiled.

I’m not real­ly a sculp­tor,” said Len, as the pan­ic soft­ened into self-reproach. I had some trou­ble with — ”

The Golem wrapped his mis­shapen hand around Len’s neck/​shoulder region, his fin­gers so large — so dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly large, Len admon­ished him­self — and so lack­ing in fine motor skills that it was unclear whether his inten­tion was to choke Len or mere­ly brace him against the wall.

Vu zay­nen mir? Ir zet nit oys vi a rov. Vi lang iz es geven? Ver zol ikh oyshar­ge­nen?” demand­ed The Golem, his voice sludgy, his tongue and vocal cords and tra­chea and epiglot­tis nonex­is­tent to the best of Len’s knowledge.

Ver zol ikh oyshar­ge­nen?” he said again. Len could tell it was a ques­tion by the way The Golem’s voice lilt­ed into a slight­ly less gut­tur­al reg­is­ter on the final syl­la­ble, and he could tell The Golem real­ly want­ed to know the answer by the way he tight­ened his left-hand­ed vise grip on Len’s neck/​shoul­der and with his right hand punched a mas­sive hole straight through the door of Len’s stain­less steel refrig­er­a­tor. I’m sor­ry,” said Len. I don’t speak Yid­dish?” It was a guess, which Len hoped he could con­vey by lilt­ing his voice into a slight­ly high­er reg­is­ter despite the increas­ing pres­sure The Golem was exert­ing against his windpipe.

The Golem grunt­ed and flung Len aside, much as he had the door. Len scut­tled back against a wall and sat there, panting.

Thank you,” he said after a moment.

The Golem turned away and began to inspect his own body, while Len weighed the idea of try­ing to down­load a Yid­dish-Eng­lish voice trans­la­tion app against the like­li­hood that if he tried, The Golem would pul­ver­ize his phone.

Avu iz mayn shmok?” The Golem said, with­out look­ing up. There was a catch in his voice, as if he were con­fronting the unthinkable.

An idea struck Len, and he stood and backed into the liv­ing room.

The Golem’s head whipped toward him with big-car­ni­vore ener­gy, and Len froze and showed The Golem both his palms. Lis­ten,” he said, I’m going to run out and find some­one who can under­stand you. But I need you to stay here and not trash my place, okay? Can you do that?”

The Golem didn’t respond, but he also didn’t destroy any­thing. Len dart­ed over to the tele­vi­sion and turned it on. Here,” he said. Watch this until I get back.” He point­ed at the six­ty-inch screen, which was filled with Lar­ry David’s face.

The Golem took a cau­tious step for­ward. He seemed fright­ened, but entranced. He took anoth­er step, and the light from the tele­vi­sion bathed his steak of a face.

The Golem blinked, and plant­ed his cin­derblock feet. Len grabbed his keys and bolt­ed for the door.

Excerpt­ed from The Golem of Brook­lyn by Adam Mans­bach. Copy­right © 2023 by Adam Mans­bach. Pub­lished by One World, an imprint of Ran­dom House, a divi­sion of Pen­guin Ran­dom House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be repro­duced or reprint­ed with­out per­mis­sion in writ­ing from the publisher.

Adam Mans­bach is the author of over a dozen books, includ­ing #1 New York Times best­seller Go the F*ck to Sleep, Cal­i­for­nia Book Award-win­ner The End of the Jews, his mem­oir in verse, I Had a Broth­er Once, and most recent­ly, the best­selling A Field Guide to the Jew­ish Peo­ple, with Dave Bar­ry and Alan Zweibel. Mans­bach wrote the award-win­ning screen­play for the Net­flix Orig­i­nal Bar­ry. His next fea­ture film will be Super High with New Line.