GOLEM: A Call to Action is an exhibition in three parts by Los Angeles–based artist Julie Weitz, comprising three video artworks—Golem v. Golem, My Golem as a Wildland Firefighter, and Prayer for Burnt Forests—that draw on Jewish allegory, folklore, and spiritual practice to confront societal and ecological disasters. The legend of the golem originates as far back as the Middle Ages, when Jewish mystics imagined the creation of a clay humanoid as a meditative technique for becoming closer to God. By the nineteenth century, popular Yiddish folktales characterized the golem as a helper, companion, or rescuer of an imperiled Jewish community. Central to the legend is the tension among the human desires to create, seek power, and pursue justice.
Debuting in alignment with three holidays in Spring 2021, all three pieces included in GOLEM: A Call to Action evolved from Weitz’s ongoing My Golem project, which began as a performance series in response to Donald Trump's presidency and the resurfacing of white supremacy and anti-Semitism in America. The project centers on Julie Weitz’s portrayal and embodiment of a futuristic, folkloric humanoid—analogously named “My Golem.” Like the other installments of the project, the artworks included in GOLEM: A Call to Action satirically cross boundaries to address difficult subjects in an engrossing, stylized manner. Throughout the My Golem project, Weitz revitalizes golem mythology to frame a moral imperative for action around social justice, climate change, and progressive wildfire management. Dark, uncanny, and mysterious, the works in this exhibition frame a view of nature that emphasizes cultural issues and ecological catastrophe, while acknowledging human beings’ implicit responsibility for atonement and repair.
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Prayer for Burnt Forests, the latest video in the My Golem series, premieres on the longest day of the year—the summer solstice. The artwork extends upon the Jewish imperative of tikkun olam (to heal the world) by upholding the land’s right to rest and recuperation, after having suffered for humanity’s sins. Together with Rabbi Zach Fredman, Weitz has created a prayer intended to be read and delivered in nature as a gesture of respect, restoration, and genesis. In the video, Weitz’s golem traverses the recently-charred landscape of Tongva land in Southern California, performing the prayer as a ritual dance. When the exhibition opens, the prayer will be available as a downloadable pdf in multiple languages for viewers to download.
In Prayer for Burnt Forests, ecology is framed within the traditional Jewish concept of fire as a force for hope and as a foundational element in spiritual ritual. In a modern twist, however, Golem’s fire is specifically a decolonizing “cultural fire,” which connects her religious awakening to California’s Indigenous practices of fire ecology. As a diasporic justice seeker, Golem adapts her culture’s ancient traditions with contemporary urgency, while honoring local communities, the land, and long-established local practices. At stake is the larger conviction that advocacy for traditional ecological knowledge, combined with ancient Jewish practices, can be a powerful means of healing and reshaping climate and land management policy.
My Golem as a Wildland Firefighter follows Weitz’s golem as she trains to be a wildland firefighter in Tahoe National Forest (Washoe), and discovers the generative nature of fire. As she undergoes her training, Golem becomes an advocate for controlled burns, a method long used by California’s Indigenous communities, and seeks to educate the public about their efficacy in managing megafires, an increasingly devastating aspect of life in California.
The video is presented as a take on public service announcements promoting healthy fire ecology. Throughout, Golem demonstrates basic firefighting training techniques and scouts the scorched backdrop of Tahoe National Forest, where she trained at the University of California, Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station.
In this vein, Golem acts as a counterimage to Smokey the Bear—educating the public using Jewish theological concepts and contemporary ecological thought to emphasize her role as a sacred clown and diasporic Jewish justice seeker, while opposing the United States Forest Service's longstanding suppression of Indigenous cultural fire.
Weitz has created this project in collaboration with videographers Ellie McCutcheon and Steve Dunsky.
In 2017, in response to the protests and violence that took place in Charlottesville, VA, Artist Julie Weitz created her performative project My Golem—a series centering on her embodiment of a mythical creature drawn from Jewish folklore. A futuristic, highly-stylized figure covered with white mud, Golem was brought to life to respond to contemporary challenges including climate catastrophe, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. Golem v. Golem is a new, eight-part episodic video series inspired by the Passover story’s struggle between tyranny and freedom. Through the series, Weitz reexamines the multi-year My Golem project, exploring Golem’s creation story, her activism, and how the character has been received and (mis)interpreted by different audiences in various contexts.
Over the past four years, My Golem has evolved from Instagram videos to performances at protests to creative collaborations—in the process, taking on a life of her own. Weitz’s journey through her previous work as both creator and creation in Golem v. Golem requires a retelling and reframing of her past, and ultimately leads her to question her connection to God. The project’s eight videos weave the themes of Passover throughout this dialogue, and explore the possibility of both psychological and spiritual liberation within all of us.
Golem v. Golem is a digital project designed for Instagram that presents an unfolding narrative, with a new episode debuting each day of Passover, in addition to supporting posts, stories, and a companion literary collaboration, "What We Talk About When We Talk to the Golem," by Moriel Rothman-Zecher. Weitz has created this project in collaboration with filmmaker D.S. Chun of Rug and Vase alongside Director of Photography Mustafa Zeno, Sound Recordist Cameron Gibson, and Costume Designer Jill Spector.
Julie Weitz is a Los Angeles–based artist working in video, performance, and installation. Weitz has been featured in Artforum, Art in America, The L.A. Times, The New York Times, Bomb Magazine, L.A. Confidential, Photograph Magazine, Hyperallergic and on KCRW. She is a 2020–2021 Cultural Trailblazer of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and a Helix Fellow at Yiddishkayt. Weitz is also a 2020 recipient of the Fulcrum Arts Emerge Program and a 2019 nominee for the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Award. Weitz has received grants from the California Center for Cultural Innovation, Asylum Arts, American Jewish University, the Banff Centre and the Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture. She currently teaches in Los Angeles and is a contributing writer to Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles. Weitz also founded the Instagram account @Jews4BlackLives, which serves as an educational hub for the Jewish activist community in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Weitz can also be found on Instagram @mygolem_is_here.
GOLEM: A Call to Action is organized by The Contemporary Jewish Museum and is co-curated by Qianjin Montoya, Assistant Curator, and Heidi Rabben, Senior Curator. Leadership support is generously provided by Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt.
Golem v. Golem by Julie Weitz is produced by Asylum Arts, made possible with the generous support of CANVAS. The project is presented at the Vilna Shul, Boston's Center for Jewish Culture in partnership with the Jewish Arts Collaborative. A companion literary collaboration, "What We Talk About When We Talk to the Golem," by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, is produced by Jewish Book Council. Additional digital partners include the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. The work is part of a North American project—Dwelling in a Time of Plagues—a coast-to-coast Jewish artistic response to contemporary plagues. To see the other works on display, visit plaguedwelling.com.