When I first encountered this book during the 1960s I suppose Jews and Judaism were as much a mystery to me as they are today. I’d had a couple of Jewish landlords during the 18 months I’d lived in Boston, whom the other tenants assured me were the awful human beings they were because they were Jews, but I didn’t put much stock in it. I’d come across enough nastiness in Baptists, Church of Christers, Catholics and a Mennonite to convince me you could find that anywhere.
What a person did on Sunday, Saturday, whatever, I concluded, didn’t have much to do with what he did the rest of the time. Nobody to my knowledge has a monopoly on A-hole-ism.
I recall during basic training a guy named Wenick, from Baltimore who was ahead of me on a night march at Fort Jackson, SC, and let the barrel of his M1 sag, stopped suddenly and caught me under the chin with it was unapologetic. Clacked my teeth together on my tongue so’s it bled. Blamed me for not seeing it in the dark.
But until the other GIs told me it was because he was a Jew I didn’t know he was one. Just a careless, skinny nerd, seemed to me, who kept to himself. By hindsight I suppose he was denying his mistake because if he admitted it he’d have been blamed and it would have been attributed to his Jewishness. He was in a no-win situation.
However, other than those experiences I mostly just went around not knowing and not caring whether people were Jews unless they made an issue of it. Same with other religions.
So, when I came across The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, during the 1960s I didn’t come in with much baggage. I doubt I’d even ever wondered what it would be like to be a Jew. Particularly not a young Jewish man in New york City during WWII. The Chosen hooked me on Chaim Pokok and I read all his other books I could lay my hands on.
Lately when I was packing books I came across this one, thought I’d probably put it aside without another read this lifetime. But after I managed to offend one person living in Israel whom I admired and got a savage attack for my troubles from the other guy whom [I believe] is a piece of work and a story in his own right, I decided to refresh my memory with a quick read.
There’s a fair amount of European Jewish history in the tome described through the perspective of a Jew. There’s an explanation most non-Jewish readers won’t have known about acrimony between various sects of orthodox Jews. An inside look at operations inside the houses of worship and study.
And a fairly nice plot, character development, everything it takes to create a worthy novel.
Any of you folks out there who aren’t of the Jewish faith, who only know what’s said about them by the northeastern Jew haters, who’d like to learn more without deep studying of non-fiction might find it worth your while.
Along with other books by Chaim Potok:
My Name is Asher Lev
The Book of Lights
I Am The Clay
In The Beginning
There might be others as well – These were listed in the front of The Chosen and I have vivid recollections of the first, vague rememberings of the others