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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A young boy is growing up in an Hasidic Jewish community, with all the rituals and traditions and expectations that go with that. Add to this the fact that his father works for the Rebbe (the leader of the community) .. and it becomes a real problem that this boy, Asher Lev, doesn't do well in school. Instead, he spends time drawing and looking at life through different eyes. Good boys are supposed to study the Torah, to understand at least a few languages, to do well in school, and not to be artistic. At a young age, he experiences the darkness of a painful truth, and gives up drawing because it seems futile, useless. But he cannot stop it, and a few years later this gift comes back with a vengence.

The Rebbe calls Asher in for a conversation that all boys at his age have. They talk about his art, and the Rebbe tells him that he will be apprenticed to another Jewish artist -- Jacob Kahn. In their first meeting, Jacob warns him that art is not something to be done lightly .. especially as a Jew. Asher looks into all the hard truth he is presented with, and still chooses art. He must take large steps out of his world, though .. spending hours at the museum, studying & copying and learning from masterpieces, at the library studying various works, working on various techniques, even drawing nudes. These are challenging for him, but he takes the steps because he cannot help himself .. art must pour out of him in some fashion and he chooses to hone his skills and grasp of what art really is. If these things are challenging for him, they are beyond comprehension to his father. When someone in a community challenges the status quo, his questions or wonderings also affect the rest of the community, either directly or indirectly. Because Asher wants to and can produce real, beautiful art, he causes his teachers and schoolmates and parents to ask different questions about what is and isn't proper and why. In being true to this gift that was given to him by the Master of the Universe, Asher eventually creates something that the community cannot accept because it is so far outside their comprehension and definitions. That feels true for some art these days as well. How rare it feels to have people who really follow God and seek His face also producing beautiful, good, true art that challenges conceptions and speaks to deeper levels of the soul. And when they come along, I wonder how well the faith community accepts them. This is a book I'm sure I will read again. At least once :)

Title:My Name is Asher Lev
Author: Chaim Potok
Date published:1972
Genre: Fiction, Art
Number of pages: 369


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