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Friday, November 27, 2015

What is the golem?

“Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman have a new book out called The Golem of Paris. What exactly is the golem?”

The golem is a humanoid creature from Jewish folklore. It’s built, often from clay, by a righteous person with great knowledge of Kabbalah. The creature is given life when its maker inscribes a sacred word (often the name of God) on the golem itself or on a piece of parchment which is then placed on the golem or in its mouth.

Legends of the golem date back to medieval times and take different forms. They typically portray the creature as a hardworking, if overly literal, servant, with superhuman strength that made it useful for physical labor. In many stories, though, the rabbi then loses control of his creation and must destroy it in order to end its rampage. The golem can be destroyed by removing or erasing the sacred word that brought it to life. In some legends, the golem is inscribed with the Hebrew word for truth, emet. Erasing the first letter changes it to the Hebrew word for death, met, and thus the golem is returned to dust.

One of the most well-known golem legends is that of the golem of Prague. In it, the Maharel (which is an acronym that refers to Rabbi Yehudah Leib ben Betsal’el, whose name is also transliterated as Judah Loew ben Bezalel and Yehuda Loew) creates a golem to protect his people from anti-Semitic attacks. There are different endings to the story. In some, the Maharel simply disables the golem when it’s no longer needed. In others, he must destroy it when it becomes too large and violent. David Wisniewski’s Caldecott-winning interpretation blends the two. In his book, Golem, the Maharel destroys the rampaging golem, but only after the emperor guarantees the safety of the Jews. 

“Golem” was originally a Hebrew word that could be translated as “shapeless mass” or “unformed substance.” In Yiddish, the word is also used disparagingly for a clumsy or unintelligent person.

The Kellermans’ The Golem of Paris is actually a sequel to The Golem of Hollywood. Both books center around a Los Angeles detective whose family has a connection to the legendary golem of Prague. We own both books at the Newton Falls Public Library, along with David Wisniewski’s retelling, Golem, and Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, a historical fantasy about a golem and jinni meeting in early-1900s New York City.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Will squirrels only eat half a buckeye?

“I heard that squirrels will only eat one side of a buckeye because one side is poisonous and the other isn’t. Is that true?”

We checked Grizmek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals: Volume 3, the Peterson Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Warner Shedd’s Owls Aren’t Wise and Bats Aren’t Blind, The Ohio Nature Almanac, and Osmond P. Breland’s Animal Life and Lore to see if there was any mention of this bit of folklore. While we learned a few interesting facts about squirrels (that they aren’t strict vegetarians, for example – along with nuts, seeds, and mushrooms, squirrels will sometimes also eat eggs and insects), we didn’t find any mention of squirrels only eating half a buckeye.

Looking around online, we found that Cindy Decker, a writer at the Columbus Dispatch, had already tackled the question. She went all the way back to the 1913 edition of The North American Journal of Homeopathy. In the journal, Dr. H.L. True writes of the experiment their friend Mr. C.H. Morris did on squirrels. Morris caged three squirrels and provided them with buckeyes to eat. The squirrels did not all start eating on the same side of the nut. While none of them ate their whole buckeye in one sitting, they would eventually go back and finish it when they got hungry enough.

According to a fact sheet provided by the Ohio Division of Forestry, while the buckeye can be poisonous to people, it doesn’t affect squirrels. It’s not their preferred food, but they will eat it if they can’t find anything better.

For more information about squirrels, check out Richard R. Thorington’s Squirrels: The Answer Guide, available through CLEVNET.

Friday, November 6, 2015

What is the white part inside an egg?

“When I crack an egg, sometimes there’s a stringy white piece attached to the yolk. What is that? Should I take it out?”

Merriam–Webster’s Visual Dictionary provided us with a labeled diagram of the inside of a bird egg, allowing us to identify just what part of the egg our patron was referring to and what purpose it serves. The stringy white bit is called the chalaza. It’s a ropy filament of egg white that’s there to keep the yolk in the center of the egg. It can also be an indicator of freshness – the more noticeable the chalaza, the fresher the egg.

The chalaza is perfectly fine to eat and its presence is not noticed in most dishes. However, it can interfere with the smooth texture of sauces and custards, so cooks will sometimes remove it.

CLEVNET carries a variety of egg-specific cookbooks, including Marie Simmon’s The Good Egg, Andrea Slonecker’s Eggs on Top, Terry Blonder Golson’s The Farmstead Egg Guide and Cookbook, and Kathy Casey’s D’lish Deviled Eggs. Any of these books can be ordered in to our library.