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am 9. Juli 2000
I am an African American attorney who read this book as part of collecting readings for a summer trip with Operation Understanding to share with Black and Jewish high school students. Operation Understanding takes 8 Black and 8 Jewish students between their Junior and Senior years of high school on a trip across the South and Northeast, stopping at places of significance to both, in an effort to restore the alliance that existed between the groups especially during the Civil Rights Movement. This was the perfect book to gain a deeper understanding of American Jewry for the trip.
The book explores the relationship between two deeply religious boys from profoundly different traditions within that religion who are accidentally -- divinely, really -- brought together. The development of both boys' spirituality starts with lessons from their fathers and deepens with lessons from each other.
The Chosen takes place in World War II America. I was already familiar with many of the classic accounts of Holocaust survivors (Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel, and others.) This book richly filled a gap in that understanding by presenting a fully formed first person account, though ficitious, of the wrenching experience of American Jews who helplessly learned of the horror from here.
The book also offers thorough background information (which will have to be supplemented by further reading) about Jewish history, both cultural and religious. The author patiently explains terms presumably unfamiliar to the general reader and then trusts the reader to turn back if, during the course of reading the novel, the terms are momentarily forgotten. Those reviewers who said that Potok left the reader unaided were simply not paying close attention.
Beyond its fascinating historical and religious perspectives, this book's elegant craftsmanship and universal themes will move anyone, regardless of background. Potok's gift for writing regional American dialogue is similar to that of Twain and Steinbeck. Thematically, especially moving to me was the way in which the fathers' mostly wordless love and support for their sons manifested itself in the friends' often wordless love and support for each other. It is significant in this regard that the fathers never meet in the novel, even as they separately express a conflicted admiration for each other when each speaks to one or both boys. When both boys choose career paths their fathers had not expected, Potok allows the reader to share all four characters' realization that it is fulfilling the expectations of God, the Father that ultimately matters most.
I will share an excerpt of this extraordinary book with the young people on our trip. And when we reach New York, my hometown, I'm giving my copy to my Dad.
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am 31. Mai 2000
Well, it's been another year, but the Chosen is still the best book I've ever read. I made some errors on my last review, so I'll change them. I did not WRITE the Chosen, I READ it (which is what I meant to say, except that I was too busy applauding Chaim Potok). And I have since found out that the term for one who is born jewish but becomes more religious later is "b'aal teshuvah", not "born-again-jew". (But it kinda works, doesn't it?)
For people who are still confused about all the Jewish terms: LOOK THEM UP! I didn't know much about Judaism before I read it either, so I read through dictionnairies, encyclopedias, etc... NOW I know enough to UNDERSTAND WHAT HE'S TALKING ABOUT. (And aren't books much more FUN that way?)
Reuven is clearly NOT a secular Jew. He is Orthodox. (Modern Orthodox, as it is called now.) No secular Jew goes to synagogue, is instructed in yiddish and hebrew in a yeshiva,(or even goes to a yeshiva) studies talmud, wears a yarmulke and prays with teffilin, ok?
Clearly, Reuven's character is portraying the few thousand orthodox jews who think that the current-day-Israel has the right to exist, despite passages in the Torah that say otherwise. (I think Potok, who is also Orthodox, is one of them too, and the fact that there were enough Orthodox Zionists in the High School show that he was really trying to set these characters apart, even among the orthodox.)
The theme here is not that Danny is more religious than Reuven. It's that BOTH are religious, and that each thinks the other way is wrong.
This often occurs among M.O. (Modern Orthodox) and U.O. (Ultra-orthodox, including Hasidism).
The interesting thing is, according to the HALACHAH (I hope I spelled that right), or "religious laws", they are both "religious".
ex: torah forbids touching face and sides of head with a blade, so hasidism grow beards and "sidelocks" (peyes). However, M.O. use an electric razor (no blade), so technically, they are still fulfilling the commandment.
Every time I read this, more insight is gained. I still say this book, although fictionnal, is a valuable reading material for the secular and reform jews of today who still can't comprehend why "anyone would want to live like that".
This book has impacted my life and I will always be grateful to Chaim Potok for writing it. He is a genius, and I hope he continues to write many more masterpieces of literature.
(I eagerly look forward to the finishing of Asher Lev's story, which Potok is supposedly working on.)
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am 16. November 1999
I had to read the Chosen for my 8th Grade English class in1998. It is without a doubt the best book I have ever written. I readit in under 2 days, and since then have read almost all his books dealing with adolescent Jews. This book shows what it means to be Jewish, that Judaism is as much about personal relationships with God as it is with others, with the community. It shows that friendship conquers all, even schisms in religion. It was a big insight into the sometimes mysterious worlds of Hasidism and Orthodoxy, and is useful in showing differences (I was not aware of any until I read this book). I am a secular jew and identified strongly with both characters.
For the students who say it was boring and that only Jews could understand it, I think they should have done some research before starting it. For instance, you shouldn't read this book until you know what the Torah is, at least. A glossary at the back would have helped comprehension, but would have taken away from the story as well. By not proviving definitions every five pages, Chaim Potok let the story envelop readers, so that they felt that they knew everything Danny and Reuven knew. If the students didn't understand something, they should have looked it up, like the students in my class should have. I cannot believe that anyone can say this was boring, as I think it is one of the best looks into stricter American Judaism. Such books are necessary for the reform Jews of today who regard Orthodox Jews and Hasidism as fanatics and extremists. His books "The Promise", "My name is Asher Lev", and "The Gift of Asher Lev" are good for this purpose as well.
The character of Reb Saunders is one of the most original ones I have ever encountered. He makes me understand my late grandfather, a "Born-again Jew" better.
This book has impacted my life and I will always be grateful to Chaim Potok for writing it. He is a genius, and I hope he lives to write many more masterpieces of litterature.
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am 26. Juli 2000
I first read this book when I was 15, and reread it four years later, and was as moved by the words and story that Chaim Potok wove. This book gave me a deeper understanding of two very different Jewish traditions, and Potok's words are poignant and elonquent.
The most amazing thing about this book is that I felt so much for the characters, Danny and Reuben, who struggle with their self-identities and desires, and how two boys with different traditions were able to find a common meeting ground. Danny's struggle with both his particular beliefs and his thirst for knowledge are touching and frustrating, and means so much in terms of his familial and personal development.
Read this book--it's touching and powerful, and I believe that despite its melancholy tone, it is one of the most enlightening books I have ever read; both in terms of religion and human desire.
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am 2. Dezember 1998
Although often assigned to young adults, this book is really meant to be re-read throughout life, as it can be understood and enjoyed on many levels as the reader matures. The old "ParDeS" method of analysis (an acronym for Hebrew words meaning: literal, moral, allegorical, and mystical) can be applied to this story, and it is excellent on each of these levels. Literally it is a moving story about growing up, friendship, families, making choices, and finding one's place in the world rather than letting it be assigned by others. Morally, it shows different life choices in a remarkably non-judgemental way--the two diametrically opposed families each find a way that fits their character to make meaningful choices and contributions to the world without compromising their principles, and both are partially successful, but both pay a price. The sons must choose for themselves which elements to retain and which to reject from their traditions. Allegorically, it shows the tension between the interior life, symbolized by the Hasidic family, and the exterior life, symbolized by the politically activist Orthodox family. Neither way has all the answers, and both suffer (the Hasids mentally, both father and son; the Orthodox, physically, again both father and son). Each son has to learn to adopt elements from the other approach to grow up a complete person. It is on the mystical level, however, that this book touches me the most. The terrible silence of the Hasidic father, which seems so senseless and destructive to his talented but tormented son, is revealed to have a transcending reason. This is like the experience so many of us have with a God Who remains silent despite even the most desperate attempts to make contact with Him. We can't see why a supposedly loving God would be so cold and remote when we cry out to Him the most. This book provides a model which might apply to this, perhaps man's oldest and most painful question.
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am 19. Oktober 1998
The Chosen by Chaim Potok is a story of two boys who become friends even though they have many differences. Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders both live in Brooklyn, in the 1940s. Danny and Reuven lived five blocks away from each other, their whole lives but did not know of each others existence. Reuven Malter is an Orthodox Jew and Danny is a Hasidic Jew. The Hasidic Jew is more extreme than the Orthodox Jew, meaning that Danny wares black pants, coat, shoes, and a hat. He also has earlocks and later in the story a beard. Reuven just wares regular clothes. Danny's father is the leader of the Hasidic Jews. Danny can not do the things Reuven can do because his father and his religion do not permit it. Danny can't read any other books except for books that have to do with his religion. He can not go to movies or listen to the radio. His father also has to approve of his friends. Danny has an arranged marriage. When he or any other Hasidic Jew are born the families arrange the marriage. The two children usually don't meet until they are married. At parties the males can not dance with the females and the females can not dance with the males. Reuven as an Orthodox Jew can do all of this. When Danny's father died he was expected to take his place as the rabbi. This is not his choice. Unlike Danny, Reuven gets to decide what he wants to do in life. Danny's dream was to go to college and become a psychologist and not a rabbi. When his father died he had to take his place and carry on the family tradition. Danny does not want to do this. One day he would tell his father. Reuven also wanted to go to college, but he wanted to be a rabbi. Both of the boys went to Hirsch College. Their relationship in college suffered. When Mr. Malter made a Zionist speech in Madison Squre Garden about how the Jews should build their capital in Palestine, Danny's father forbid him to talk to Reuven. Reb Saunders was an anti-Zionist. He believes that the messiah is going to come and tell them where to build the capital. Throughout the year at college Reuven and Danny did not speak to each other. This made them both sad. The second year of college started and Danny and Reuven still did not talk. It was not until Mr. Malter had a second heart that they resumed their friendship. In the last chapters of the book Danny must make a very difficult choice that will affect him for the rest of his life.
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am 4. Dezember 1996
The Chosen by Chaim Potok is a must in any person's reading list who is interested to know about the world that surrarounds him/her. Potok takes
the reader into a factional world, where fantasy and illusion become reality, and the characters take in life of them, to a point that one could feel
part of a Jewish community located in a pre-WWII New York City. His prose is beutiful, with a rich description of every small detail with the same care
of the bigger picture. Just as Potok paints the scenery with a skillfull brush, he explains the psychology of his characters. He points out their weaknesses,
their flaws, and, in a joyful tone, their triumphs. Reuven, the narrator of the story, lives in a world where knowledge doesn't only provide power, it also gives
its owner a great responsability, as is proven by his friend, Danny, who is the son of a rabbi and a also a genius. Danny has to confront the reality of the family
tradition that would force him into the service to his community as a rabbi, because his mind is needed there to guide his people through one of the most turbulent
moments in the history of Jewery, the discovery of the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel. However, Danny's soul wants him to be the next Freud, the
man who would unveil human kind's flaws, and solved them. The book doesn't cointain much of a physical suspense, but the tormented minds and souls of its protragonists
clearly make up for it. Potok has created a universe where poetry is law, and where a dreamer can go and escape from reality into a world of innonce that is controlled by the
warm souls of the innocents.
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am 28. Juni 1999
When my high-school freshman son (who naturally no longer shares absolutely everything in his life with me) approached me with some questions of the more arcane variety with regard to the first of his summer reading assignments, I took a look at the title, and my heart leapt for joy. I first read "The Chosen" over 30 years ago. I vividly recall that, when I reached the last page, I immediately went back to the first and read it again. I have since re-read it at least 10 times (though not recently), each time discovering something new. My son's assignment has given me another opportunity to do so. We used the Amazon review board as a springboard for discussing the contents of the book. In reading the reviews, I am glad to see that, in large measure, Potok's ageless story is touching and educating another generation. To those who complain that they don't understand aspects of the story or the Jewish cultures central to it, I say, do as Reuven and Danny do -- savor the beauty and subtlety of the language and the ideas expressed through it, study for the pure sake of acquiring knowledge and understanding, stretch your horizons and seek knowledge of that which you don't understand, feed your soul. In this speed-, computer-, and greed-driven society, we need to slow down and remind ourselves of the existence of timeless, truly important things. This book does it better than any other I have encountered in 40 years of avid reading.
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am 23. März 1997
Being a book person, I have done a lot of reading. The majority of the books I read are forgotten soon after. However, it has been more than a year since I first read The Chosen, and I have certainly not forgotten it. In fact, my understanding of the book is far more acute than it was when I finished that book for the first time.
Briefly summarized, this book is about two Orthodox Jewish boys from Brooklyn who have grown up in strikingly different societies and have been exposed to strikingly different views, whose lives are bound by a single event at a baseball game. The boys form an unlikely friendship, through which they each learn about the other's world. They each grow from this friendship. and, ultimately derive from it the courage to follow their dreams.
Whether or not the reader is familiar with the world of Orthodox Judaism, he/she can't help feeling drawn to the characters of Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders. Chaim Potok portrays these characters so beautifully, they don't come of seeming like characters at all, but like people -- real people whom the reader can care about. A few chapters into the book, the reader will feel him/herself becoming a part of these characters, and engulfed in their Brooklyn world.
The book goes from chapter to wonderful chapter, until the unusually captivativating final chapter, which will leave you wanting to know more. To read more about these luminous characters, read The Promise, a sequel to The Chosen.
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am 18. Januar 2000
This book is about a Jewish boy and how he grows up in a small Jewish ghetto called Williamsburg in Brooklyn during the era of the holocaust. In this story young Rueven Malter must face the challenges of growing up in a strict and powerful Jewish society. During the length of this story Rueven meets the son of a highly respected Jewish rabbi. The two boys become best friends after an unfortunate baseball accident. Even though their parents have different views of how and what holy things occur, the boys manage to remain friends until college when they are forbidden to see each other. This story however ends with the two back together. Personally I thought the subject was interesting, but was told in an uninteresting way. The author took too much time discussing Jewish history and costums that he didn't really explain enough of Danny and Rueven's lives. After finishing this story I am still wondering what the writer's reason for creating this book, what was he trying to get across? Mabey I spent too much time trying to pick out the details of the boy's lives to understand what was happening. If you are the kind of person who enjoys reading things in which the writing is mechanically correct than this would be your book. The mechanical writing was perhaps the only thing that really reminds me of this book, other than that I am surprised that the Jewish philosophy did not interest me.
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