This story has had a profound impact on many who have read it. Chaim Potok has created an intimate tale that crystalizes the difficulty of making one’s way in the world when the vocation that calls to a young person differs from the expectations of one’s parents and community. In one way or another, that struggle has been happening in homes for generations, and across cultural boundaries. The tone of the arguments is familiar, even if the details of the conflict are different. It would be easy to focus on the romantic notion of the leaving of family, liberating oneself to become all one can be. Potok doesn’t let his characters off that easily. Anything or anyone that ever mattered in our lives will require more from us than we think we can actually give. In this story, Asher Lev’s gift requires everything.
Asher is a part of a tradition that values family, and has seen the families of it’s people torn apart and destroyed by Hitler and Stalin with the kind of savagery that marks a people, drawing their tattered remnants together in it’s wake. It is a tradition that has a very pragmatic and tangible mission in the world - a mission of cultural, religious and familial restoration. Asher Lev’s home is caught up in that mission.
It is a strange irony of life that the time when our children need us the most is also the time when our vocations demand the most from us. Generation after generation now live in that tension, creating weariness that clouds our ability to really see and hear the people who we care most deeply about. So, this story will have resonances familiar to all people who are passionate about their sense of purpose in the world, whatever side of the generation gap they find themselves on.
The brilliance of a great story, so specifically set in a given culture, is that we find ourselves inside it somehow. Chaim Potok is just such a storyteller. I encourage you to read the sequel to My Name is Asher Lev, titled The Gift of Asher Lev. Stories, like life, never really finish till life is finished.
-Morris Ertman, Director
My Name Is Asher Lev runs at Pacific Theatre until February 25