The Thrill of Creation: Chaim Potok's Asher Lev Goes From Page to Stage

By Jonathan Mandell
09 Nov 2012

Naama Potok
Naama Potok

Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev is brought to life Off-Broadway. His daughter, collaborator and star reflect on the late author and rabbi's need to create.

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As a teenager who was already committed to a life in the arts, Naama Potok was "extremely moved" when she read "My Name Is Asher Lev," a novel about a young man who feels compelled to become an artist even though his family is opposed to it. Her father, Chaim Potok, wrote the novel.

Forty years after the novel's publication, a stage adaptation of it by Aaron Posner is launching Off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre with Naama Potok in the cast. She is the understudy for Asher's mother.

The actress was not alone in her reaction to her father's book. "A number of people told me that "My Name Is Asher Lev" changed their lives, even saved their lives," says playwright Posner. Identifying with the character, Posner noticed, did not require any direct connection to either the artist's life or Jewish tradition, though the story focuses on a Hasidic Jew growing up in Brooklyn. "People responded who grew up in one or another set of circumstances and found themselves feeling different," Posner says, "whether it was a liberal growing up in a conservative family, or a gay person in a world that didn't accept this difference."

The novelist drew partly from personal experience: "He started painting before he started writing," his daughter learned. "Apparently, this was really frowned upon by his father."

Though ordained as a rabbi, and descended from a Hasid dynasty, Chaim Potok did not grow up in a Hasidic household. He turned his characters into Hasids to heighten the opprobrium Asher must overcome. ("There are Hasidim who are artists today," Naama Potok says. "There's more acceptance now.")



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