Though Chosen, We Choose.

CW Potok3.jpg
Chaim Potok’s (Photo) “The Chosen” offers a twist on the classic “coming of age” novel in that it follows the arc of two central characters (Danny and Reuven) plus their fathers, and is set in five square blocks of Brooklyn where two boys in a baseball game break the isolation of Hasidic and orthodox Jewry.

Still required reading on many college campuses, “The Chosen” is of particular interest to people of faith because it offers a vicarious exploration of how faith relates to individual and societal life and how it is viewed by outsiders.

Most importantly, “The Chosen” follows two of God’s “chosen people” as they choose their own religious path, a choice that will set the trajectory of their course for years to come. Danny leaves Hasidism while retaining his Jewish faith and Potok left a Hasidic-like orthodoxy to become a writer.

Paul Elie observes that the 20th century’s four most influential catholic writers all “wrote from the margins” and Potok offers the same perspective as a Jewish writer. He said of the dissonance between his faith and culture AND between practicing Jews of differing expressions (Hasidic, orthodox, Kabbalah, conservative, reformed, messianic) “While this tension is exhausting, it is fuel for me. Without it, I would have nothing to say.” If writing what you know is a starting point for the novelist, it seems to me we would see penetrating fiction from Christians who understand we are “pilgrims, exiles and aliens” than we are seeing from evangelical fiction writers who are simply imitating the broader culture stylistically, and want to write as insiders not from the margins.

For your enjoyment here are some more Potok quotes.

“I grew up. . .in a Hassidic world without the beard and the earlocks.” (NY Times 1/3/88)

It was essentially a fundamentalist atmosphere, which by definition is both joyous and oppressive simultaneously. Joyous in the sense of knowing you belong to some cohesive community that will care for you; in whose celebrations you can participate fully; and who will help you mourn if you need a support group in time of personal tragedy. And repressive because it sets boundaries, and if you step outside the boundaries, the whole community lets you know.

When I left the parochial school system I had to rebuild me world literally from zero. And to this day there are people from the old world who won’t speak to me.

No one can work with the novel and remain inside any fundamentalist sect.

You want to write stories? That’s very nice. You be a brain surgeon, and on the side you write stories.

Be discontented with the world. But be respectful at the same time.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in October 6, 2004 by | No Comments »

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