MY NAME IS ASHER LEV by Chaim Potok
Chaim Potok’s Orthodox Jewish background comes through vividly in My Name Is Asher Lev and its sequel The Gift of Asher Lev. Asher has a tender heart towards “the Master of the Universe,” but he also has an unquenchable passion to make art, despite the disapproval of his parents and Hasidic Jewish community. The result is a painful struggle to reconcile his religious and artistic identities. As he studies the Western canon of great art, Asher becomes preoccupied with crucifixes. Like Chagall in real life, he identifies with the suffering of Christ. He eventually uses the symbol of crucifixion to express the suffering of his mother.
Potok tells great stories while naturally weaving in wisdom about art and faith. One passage from The Gift of Asher Lev inspired me to create “The Scroll Dance.” In this passage, Asher has a dream about his love for the
Torah: “I danced with the scroll. I held the scroll as something precious to me, a living being with whose soul I was forever bound—this sacred scroll, this Word, this fire of God, this source for my own creation, this velvet-encased fountain of all life which I now clasped in a passionate embrace.”
I started with part of the Hebrew text of the Shema (Deut 6:4-9) as the foundation of my piece. The writing itself is the dance of my pen emulating Asher’s ecstatic dream. The central design represents God’s
Word as a multi-faceted jewel with the acknowledgment that out of all the peoples of the world, God chose to reveal himself to the Jews first.