Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thank you, Dr. Potok

Some books I reread almost yearly. Others I read every so often.

I read The Chosen for the third time in the past few days. I remember really liking it the first time (at 15) and detesting it the second time (at around 32).

Now I am 60.

I have distanced myself enough from the world portrayed by and in The Chosen to be able to view it as something/some people who do not -or at least, who no longer- affect me personally. I have seen Chasidim in different venues than those of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, and as they walk, I feel no animosity - just a quiet semi-acceptance. They don't yell or get angry at me. I don't get angry at them.

Thus when I reread The Chosen, it was with a kind of rediscovery. Yes, I re-remembered their passion, their clannishness, their insistence on their own interpretations of the Torah and Tanakh, their view of women as not entitled to participate in study or prayer with them (and generally, not at all).

What I loved was the evocation of Brooklyn in the 1940's, the war years, the years of Israel's Independence struggle, the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the streets of Flatbush. Chaim Potok did this masterfully. I was born only nine years after the war, so such scenes, while mostly occurring in The Bronx where I lived and visited, were still familiar to me. Then, dear. Now almost uncapturable.  When I reread The Chosen, I was there again, and the atmosphere of the glass doored-studies, the tea, the books, even the meals in the synagogue and  shul lived again for me, as did the streets and the sycamores. Far from these years and the places shown, I now missed them but blessed Potok for bringing them back.

I also ended up appreciating the part of it that was after all a coming of age story. At 32 I scoffed because it seemed so male-oriented, with baseball as the catalyst. Now I have witnessed other coming of age stories, some featuring girls, some featuring boys, and I didn't mind- well, not as much- the fact that women seemed to play minor roles, at best, here. I still wish that at least a woman or two would have had more of a voice.

I am glad I reread The Chosen at 60. I would still not consider it one of my all time favorites, but it spoke to me of times gone by, and I appreciated that, although Potok probably would not appreciated what made me warm to it.

Thank you, anyway, Dr. Potok.

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