Uncertain times cry out for an extraordinary protector. In 16th century Prague, the protector was a giant golem made of clay. In pandemic-wracked 21st century Washington, Kohenet Ketzirah Lesser believes that comfort may come from the plushie golems she sews from felt and glitter.
“I started just thinking about what do I need right now and the concept of the golem came to mind, and how in eras and time periods where there’s shear depression that we need help and support,” says Lesser, who lives in the District’s Langdon neighborhood. “We have all these amazing stories of wonder-workers and rabbis creating a golem to help protect the people. They’re bringing a bit of joy and they’re bringing me a ton of joy to make.”
Lesser, 46, crafts Judaica using her background in theater and props design. The glitter golem/ets are her latest project. Each doll has the Hebrew word emet, or truth, on its chest (the Prague golem had emet written on its forehead.) and in its heart, a scroll with the final lines of Psalm 33:
“May we enjoy, O Lord, your faithful care, as we have put our hope in you.”
“Historically, Jews have used Psalm 33 as protection and support from epidemics,” Lesser says.
Since 2017, she’s operated an Etsy shop and online store called Devotaj Sacred Arts to sell amulets, shrines and other spiritual-related items.
“I’ve always been somebody who makes things,” Lesser said. “In some ways now I feel like I’m making the props for the Judaism I want to see and the Judaism I experience.”
By calling her creation golem/et, with its feminine Hebrew ending, Lesser seeks to be more inclusive, suggesting that her creations are “nonbinary little creatures.”
She has crafted about two minyanim of them since the start of the pandemic. Each one has been adopted by friends and paying online customers with Lesser’s hope that this symbol of protection brings people comfort during these uncertain times.
Lesser grew up in a Reform household in Easton, Mass., and has lived in the District for the past 25 years. It was while working in the theater that she sought a lifestyle change and found guidance in the Neo-Pagan and Wicca communities.
She wanted to do spiritual work and was drawn to Kohenet (Hebrew for “priestess”), an earth-based, feminist Jewish organization, which focuses on social justice, anti-racism and community outreach. She describes it as a movement that embraces mythical practices, explores what it means to be a woman in sacred services and is inclusive of those who are trans and nonbinary.
“One of the structures we work with is a concept of 13 pathways, that the divine manifests itself through women and women’s work over the ages,” Lesser says.
At one point, Lesser had considered exploring seminaries of mainstream Judaism, but felt she wouldn’t fit in because she was in an interfaith marriage.
So she enrolled in the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, which trains women as spiritual leaders. After three years, she was ordained in 2009, in the institute’s first graduating class.
Lesser has lent her services to various religious groups over the years. She worked for five years with the now defunct online synagogue OneShul and co-lead the multi-faith Washington-based spiritual community Celebrant of Becoming for a decade. It, too, has shut down.
Lesser is working on her third batch of golem/ets and contemplating a fourth. She hopes her dolls help connect people to Jewish folklore and customs.
“The reactions have been great. People have been entertained, but they’ve also connected to the concept of a golem/et and the mythology of the golem,” she says. “And it’s just very comforting to have your own little golem to listen to you.”