Letters, the Week of March 2, 2017

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A Great Article

The article on the African-American synagogue was wonderful (“African-American Synagogue Thrives, Is Honored With City Street Sign,” Feb. 23). My husband and I were at the synagogue on the day that the new Torah was dedicated. I will never forget the excitement in the room at this presentation.

It was raining and so all the congregants, myself included, walked around the inside of the synagogue seven times as the band played Hebrew songs.

We were all invited to the bimah and later, had a great kosher luncheon. This is a day that I will never forget. Synagogues around the country have much to learn from Beth’El synagogue. At least 100 to 200 men, women and children participate in services every Friday and Saturday.

Everyone, including the children, has a task to perform. That keeps all interested.

Gloria Gelman | Philadelphia

Liberties Taken with Potok Story

When Aaron Posner asked to adapt my husband’s novel My Name is Asher Lev to the stage, I warmly gave that permission to him, and accepted his request to serve as the artistic consultant to the writing and mounting of the play (“My Name is Asher Lev Adaptation Explores Connections Between Art and Religion,” Feb. 16). The result was a coherent work, one that kept the integrity of the novel and that conveyed the gist of its several hundred pages in a coherent dramatic form.

At some points in the writing and mounting of the play there were serious conversations on its interplay with the novel. While there were some disagreements between us, they did not impinge on the spine of the play. The adaptation was Posner’s, and enjoyed a long run at the Arden Theatre and many other stages throughout the country, including New York City.

But contrary to the assertions made in your story about the play’s performances at the Gershman Y, the inspiration for the novel My Name is Asher Lev was Potok’s personal history as a graphic artist, a passion he put aside in his early teen years, turning then to writing as his art of choice and one that was more acceptable to his family. Friends were not part of that equation.

His father was not enthralled with Chaim’s painting, and accepted his son’s move to the written word as artistic outlet. As long as he performed well in school, the extra time spent in reading and writing “goyische” literature was tolerated, though not encouraged.

Later, as an adult, he returned to painting, with the encouragement of his wife and to the delighted interest of his growing family. This started when the family was living briefly in Brooklyn and continued with their move to Philadelphia, where he assumed the editorship of the Jewish Publication Society.

The aim of Chaim Potok the writer was to conjure from his imagination the meetings that the Rebbe would have had with a young gifted aspiring artist whose drive pulled him in directions not in keeping with his parents’ position in the community.

Regarding the issue of censorship in art — Asher Lev leaves the community of his parents because as an artist he will not abide censorship and as a caring son he has to create at a distance from what could/would result from his interaction with the larger — yes, goyische — world.

Adena Potok | Merion Station

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