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Carolyn Greenwald – The Gelt Giving Golem

Carolyn Greenwald is the author of a new children’s book called “The Gelt Giving Golem.” Aiming to offer an alternative to the “Elf on the Shelf” toy for Jewish families, the book combines a charmingly illustrated story about encouraging good behavior with a fun posable doll. The doll can be placed around the house pretending to engage in different activities each day, while rewarding kids with gelt – chocolate coins – if they are well behaved.

For Carolyn and her friend Suzy Hill, who did the illustrations, it was a long two-year journey to create the book and companion toy and bring them to market. Along the way, they created their own small publishing company and are looking to publish more books in the future.

In the interview, we ask Carolyn about what inspired her to create this book, the difficult process of self-publishing a book (and the toy that goes with it). We also talk about some other Jewish traditions and whether or not this book might be a good fit for families who don’t practice Hanukkah.

Below are 5 interesting snippets from the interview: 

1 – What inspired the creation of the Gelt Giving Golem?

“Elf on the Shelf” has been a popular christmas toy since it’s debut in 2005. The combination of a story encouraging good behavior and a toy doll connected to the story has proved fun for both children and their parents.

“At the time there was no Hanukkah version of Elf on the Shelf.I wanted to do something for Jewish children to encourage them to be good and do good over the holiday, and also have a fun doll that they could play with with their family,” says Greenwald. 

2 – What is a Golem anyway? What is Gelt? And what do they have to do with good behavior? 

One of the challenges that Carolyn faced in coming up with a character for a Hanukkah-specific book was the lack of magic in Jewish folklore. Then she stumbled on the story of the Golem of Prague, a magical protector, made from clay, that was created on the first day of Hanukkah during the 16th century. Of course, there was more to be done to make the golem a good fit for a children’s story and toy.

“Another issue to think of is that you want him to be children-oriented, not so scary, so I paired him with chocolate, which is an American Hanukkah tradition,” Greenwald explains. Particularly in the form of chocolate coins, otherwise known as gelt (which means “money” in Yiddish). 

Gelt and golems are not traditionally related, but Greenwald is clear that her creation is a melding of traditions: “My golem participates with your family during Hannukah, and when he sees someone doing good and being good, he rewards them with a piece of chocolate gelt.” 

3 – Is there a place for the Gelt Giving Golem in non-Jewish families?

“They could certainly do it. It’s not super religious, so if you wanted to share the story of Hanukkah and say ‘for these 8 nights, I’ll give you a piece of gelt if you’re good’, I could see a multicultural family being very happy with that, and certainly an interfaith family. It would be spot on for them,” says Greenwald. 

Or, if you’re like a lot of parents, you might just find the Elf on the Shelf a bit creepy looking. The golem, by comparison, is rather inviting. The golem also has an air of adventure around it, complete with a stylish cape. Part of Greenwald’s vision for the golem and the story was to frame it as an adventurous fairy tale, which may be more appealing to some kids. 

4 – What were the challenges in creating and publishing the book? 

The fact that there is custom golem toy that is bundled with the book was the biggest, but certainly not the the only hurdle to jump. Even before that, Greenwald ran into problems with traditional publishing: “When you want to a children’s book in the traditional way, you have to be incredibly specific with what you do. There are [specific age ranges] 2 to 3, 3 to 4, 4 to 6 – I didn’t want that for my book. I wanted a family picture book.”

“Then there’s language restrictions, where you have to use a lot of repitition, or you can only use certain letters, but I wanted certain words in there: adventure, birthday, medieval. I wanted words that would excite the kind of kids I knew.”

These issues eventually let Greenwald and her friend and illustrator Suzy Hill to form their own publishing company, Suca Arts, and produce the book themselves.

5 – What’s next for Greenwald? 

Greenwald certainly didn’t start a publishing company to publish just one book. Her goal over the coming years is to become a proper publisher. “We are going to publish – either written by me, or maybe written by you [reader] – we’re going to publish some children’s books about Ithaca.”

Their website is still in the works, but once it’s ready, you can submit your manuscripts to Suca Arts and launch your own writing career.

To get a look at the golem doll and the book, check out the video below:

Next week on the Ithacast: Jeff Stein, editor of the Ithaca Voice. For real this time!


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.