Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: chaim potok

Art: A Personal Expression of Passion

Are all of us compelled to express ourselves in some way? Do we all have that drive inside us, that passion to tell our story? Is every art a personal expression of passion?


Where do I even begin with this book? I don’t usually read a book so quickly but this one, I just couldn’t put it down. It was tragic and painful to read. I got angry with one character, and then another. Situations and choices pissed me off, and then they were perfectly reasonable. It was life.

I have so many notes about this book. The role of Asher’s mother was one that stuck with me, probably because I am a mother and I can be quite judgmental, unintentionally, but I am aware of my bias, and I try to take it into account and keep my opinions of actual people to myself. It may not seem like it, but I try.

My opinion of her changed over the course of the book. My first thoughts were, “Woman! Really! You have a child to take care of!” as she mourned the loss of her brother to the point of being non-functional. Then, as she stood between her son and her husband, attempting to support both, my heart hurt for her. As wife who loves her husband as much as her children, I can’t imagine the pain she went through trying to support her child (that piece of her heart walking in the world outside her body) as he grew into an adult capable of caring for himself, all the while longing to love and support her husband while he writhed anguish, unable to understand his own son, needing his wife with him.

I couldn’t say that I understood Asher’s passion for his art, until I started thinking about why I write here and what it would be like to be brave enough to say what I really want to say in clear and well-defined terms, with nothing to hide behind. I want to. I yearn to, but I know I may hurt the people I love most, so I don’t. I spend my time skirting around the edges instead and a part of me continues to fade away into the background.

Asher had something to say with his art and Jacob Kahn, his mentor, knew where it would ultimately take him. He tried to warn him. I think Asher did understand and went there of his own initiative. How could he not? His father and grandfather followed their passion to rescue their people and build new schools. His mother and her brother followed theirs to understand and explain the Russian language, culture, and politics. They, in their own way, hurt some people to do what they believed they had to do. Why would he not do the same?

Sitting here, explaining the story to my son, I thought, the reason people get so angry about what you are saying, doing, or pursuing, is because they wish you to be what they believe you should be. Your parents want you to be this. Your community wants you to be that. Even your children have an opinion as to how they want you to be. They all think they know what’s best for you, but they don’t. It isn’t malicious or mean, it’s just human nature. We all believe our point of view is the one the world should share. We want safety and security for ourselves and the people around us. Chaos is a bitch. Stay in line!

But we all see things differently. We all have different perspectives and needs. It reminds me of the Secular Buddhism podcast I listened to recently, about the six blind men describing an elephant from what they feel with their hands. They’ll fight to the death over what they believe is the whole truth. The reality is that we can’t know other people’s reality or how the future will play out for any of us. The best we can do is be flexible and lovingly supportive of the people around us and let go of expectations.

I read some great articles at Wheaton College’s website but this is definitely one of those times when I wish I could sit with a group of people that have read this and hear their insight.

If you’d like to read my initial thoughts about this book, go back to My Name is Asher Lev: A New Read and take a look. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

My Name is Asher Lev: A New Read

Picked up “My Name is Asher Lev” from the donate pile because I saw it was written by Chaim Potok. I read The Chosen years ago at a Leadership Education mini-conference and was left with a beautiful impression. What was it about? All I remember is Hasidic Jews in New York, a father/son relationship, and learning that some Jews thought (and still believe) a State of Israel was a bad idea. Maybe I’ll read it again.

My Name is Asher Lev

I wasn’t sure what to pick up off my WAY over-grown TBR shelf next, but I knew I wanted a novel and something meatier than Stephen King this time. I’m glad my hand was drawn to this one.

From the first page of chapter one:

“So strong words are being written and spoken about me, myths are being generated: I am a traitor, an apostate, a self-hater, an inflicter of shame upon my family, my friends, my people; also, I am a mocker of ideas sacred to Christians, a blasphemous manipulator of modes and forms revered by Gentiles for two thousand years.

Well, I am none of those things. And yet, in all honesty, I confess that my accusers are not altogether wrong: I am indeed, in some way, all of those things.

The fact is that gossip, rumors, mythmaking, and news stories are not appropriate vehicles for the communication of nuances of truth, those subtle tonalities that are often the truly crucial elements in a casual chain.”

It grabbed me. “Gossip, rumors, mythmaking, and news stories” seem to be all we have these days. And we are all basing our decisions on them. Decisions about what to do with our bodies, our money, who our enemies are, who should be cast out or kept close. This is the thing that makes me the saddest right now. It’s been a downward spiral for several years, starting long BCB (before covid bullshit, still hoping that catches on).

This is why I’ve shunned social media and online news. This is why I read books, the deep ones, the ones that want to show me something, not just entertain me for a few hours. And this one looks like it’s going to be a winner.

Written in 1972. Hasidic Jews, New York, 1950’s, communists, Stalin, Russians…one hundred pages in and I’ve already teared up, gasped in surprise, and had my heart broken. I can’t wait to hear what happens to him as he gets older. Where does his art take him? Is it a gift from the Master of the Universe or the other one?

Have you read My Name is Asher Lev or The Chosen? Want to read it with me? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments here. Or if you’re shy, email me!

PS It’s still blazing hot out here. We’ve seen far too many 115 degree days this summer. But I when I went to bed last night, it was almost dark. That’s a good sign. The seasons do still change. Fall is coming. I just need to wait it out!

If you’d like to read my final thoughts on this book, pop over to Art: A Personal Expression of Passion

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