The Arty Semite

A Hasidic Painter and His Mother

By Curt Schleier

Joan Marcus

The most basic advice given to every would-be author is to write what you know. And Chaim Potok did just that.

His best and most popular novels — “The Chosen” and “My Name Is Asher Lev” — are about boys struggling between their ultra-Orthodox upbringing and secular destinies. In “The Chosen,” the protagonist, the son of a hasidic rebbe, wants to be a psychologist; for Asher Lev it is art that draws him from his family.

Though not hasidic, Potok was raised in an Orthodox household where reading and writing on non-Jewish subjects was discouraged. But for Potok, who was also an artist, there didn’t seem to be a choice.

And so it is with his creation, recreated on stage in “My Name is Asher Lev,” currently playing the West Side Theater, an off-Broadway shtetl that also houses “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”

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