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My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Anthony Wilhelm

Paper 2: Book Summary LA 110 10/20/09

1. Painting by Chegall

My Name is Asher Lev This story is about Asher Lev, a young Hasidic Jew, who begins to use his gift of drawing at an early age to put his world on paper. His father sees this gift as foolishness and a waste of time. His extraordinary ability to draw from a young age made him very different in his Brooklyn neighborhood. This is a story of a boy turning into a young man and the constant conflicts he faces, both internally and externally, all because of his art. 2. What I pictured Aryeh and Rivkeh to look like when younger.

Asher Lev was born to Aryeh and Rivkeh Lev. Asher's father, Aryeh, is from Russia and his mother, Rivkeh, is of Russian descent. Aryeh works for the Rebbe (similar to a Rabi) and spends most of his time traveling all over the world working with different governments to help free Jews in Russians from being persecuted, murdered, or exiled to Siberia by Stalin.

Rivkeh raises Asher at their apartment in Brooklyn. Their time together is spent walking at the park and site seeing on city streets, and then when they were home, Asher would draw the events of the day. Asher `makes the world beautiful' for his mother through his drawings and she is constantly encouraging him. Although generally happy, Rivkeh worries about the safety of her husband constantly because of the amount of traveling he does. Shortly after Asher turned six, Rivkeh's brother was killed in a car crash while traveling for the Rebbe.

3. Brooklyn neighborhood that may that reminded me of Asher's home.

4. Boating at Prospect Park was a regular activity for Asher and Rivkeh.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Her brother's death sends her into an almost fatal depression, which lasts for many years. During this time, Asher's uncle takes note of his ability and encourages him, calling Asher a "little Chagall." Rivkeh's depression was not improving; she did not eat much, she did not leave the apartment, she did not talk to any friends or family, she hardly talked to Aryeh and Asher, and she smoked continually. Her behavior caused Asher to feel that there was nothing beautiful in the world because no matter how beautiful his drawings were; they were not helping his mom. Her depression wore heavily on Aryeh as well; he no longer could travel for the Rebbe and instead spent his days answering telephones at the Ladover office. This hurt him almost as much as Rivkeh's condition. Her depression finally broke with her ambition to renew and complete her brother's work. This would require her to go to college and receive a doctorate degree. The Rebbe approved and she started school, coinciding with Asher starting school. With Rivkeh back on her feet and Asher at school, Aryeh was able to resume his work and started traveling. During Asher's first few years of school he did not draw, not because he couldn't, he just did not have any desire to draw.

5. White Crucifixion by Chegall, foreshadow of future painting by Ahsher

6. Aryeh with his attache case as Asher described him.

7. Young Hasidic boys studying.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

A new immigrant to the area by the name of Reb Krinsky became an important person in Asher's life. Reb, an immigrant from Russia, had spent the last 11 years of his life in Siberia as punishment from Stalin's Russia for being a Jew. Reb had lost his wife, family, and everything else he had. He showed extreme gratitude to the Lev family because of Aryeh's hard work in freeing Russians from persecution, including himself. Asher enjoyed seeing and talking to Reb at grocery store where he worked. Reb's portrait became the subject of Asher's first drawing in years. Asher was interested in drawing Siberia to look as cold as it was.

8. Reb Krinsky became an important person in Asher's life. This is how I pictured him.

10. Asher was curious what the cold looked like in Siberia, where Reb had been sent to. This winter scene shows its coldness well.

9. Reb Krinsky sold matzos at his store and could not believe how it was to come by them in America.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Asher's obsession to draw returned and now it was uncontrollable. He drew all the time and on anything he could, on the wall next to his bed, on any sheet of paper, and even in his Chumash (the Torah). During school Asher drew the face of the Rebbe on his Chumash and, as he claims, was completely unaware of it. The desecration of the sacred Chumash caused many problems but also started to open doors.

This act caused students and some teachers to ridicule Asher. He was being teased on a daily basis, mainly from one fellow student. It also became a subject of great tension at home with his father. Aryeh could not understand how Asher could have done such a thing on this important of a book. He did not believe that Asher could have done this with out knowing it. Aryeh wanted Asher to stop the "foolishness" of drawing.

11. The Chumash book that Asher desecrated by drawing on it.

The mashpia of the school was involved in the matter and called Asher into his office. The mashpia was not angry, only curious. He was concerned about Asher because of his grades in his other classes. The mashpia asked Asher to draw him a picture, handed him a sketchbook and a pencil and then left him in the office to draw. Asher was surprised by this request, he hesitated, and then he began to draw. He drew from memory all the people in his life, except for his father. Asher was not happy with what he had created so he closed the book and hurried out of the office.

12. The mashpia of the school is a religious leader and leader of the school.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Asher continued to draw but became interested in other mediums, oil paints especially. This was in part due to going to the museum and looking at famous paintings of various kinds and he loved it. The museum opened new ideas for Asher; it made him ask more questions about what he saw. He started to look at Christian paintings of Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and the crucifixion. These paintings interested Asher and he drew them in an attempt to understand them. He read books about art and the artists, which explained some things but made him ask more questions about other things. This was against everything the Aryeh stood for, and he let Asher know it. He did not approve of Asher and Rivkeh going to the museum and be surrounded by all of the goyish (non-Jew) material. Rivkeh obeyed, Asher did not. Aryeh traveled often and was absent more than he was present which left Rivkeh to take care of Asher while she was still going to school. Because of her schedule, Asher was by himself a often and so to occupy time, he visited Reb Krinsky at his new business, a paper and art supply store, almost everyday. Asher was interested in all the supplies he would need to start painting and Reb showed him what he would need. Adding it all up was disappointing, he did not have enough money to pay for it, nor would his father buy him any. After thinking about it for a few days Asher ended up steeling the supplies from Reb's store while he wasn't looking. When he got home he hid the newly acquired materials and he kept them hidden for a long time, long enough for his mother to find them. She did not remove them or even ask Asher about how or where he got them from. She let the situation play itself out although she was very disappointed. Asher was felt so guilty that he stole the painting supplies that he never used them and returned them to Reb's store, trying to not let him know what he had done. Shortly after this Asher came home from school and Rivkeh had a gift for him. It was a painting supply kit. Asher was excited and asked her why she bought him this gift. So her son would have to steel. This embarrassed Asher because he knew he had disappointed his mom and Reb Krinskey.

13. The museum in New York that Asher would frequent.

14. Asher was very interested in the Christian paintings.

15. Asher starting to paint.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

At school Asher was still being teased and this bothered him, as it would anyone. He did not dwell on this, but instead turned to drawing and painting to make himself feel better. The lack of peer friendship is something that Asher lacks and it very evident through out the whole book. It was around this time that Asher discovered the art museum and was starting to spend much of his time there. He drew and copied the famous paintings on the walls, he was teaching himself form from the masters. He paid little attention to his schoolwork and received many disappointing remarks from his father and teachers. Aryeh was still traveling often and for long periods of time, Rivkeh was still in school and was very busy. Through most of Asher's he had dreams of his grandfather, a man that he had never met but had only heard stories of. Asher referred to him as his "mythic ancestor." He would come into Asher's dreams, crashing in and sending him the non-subtle message that he is not happy with what Asher is doing. They were vivid and intense that Asher would wake up drenched in sweat. These dreams made him think of his grandfather and wondered what had happened in his life that made him travel the as much as he did, similar to Aryeh. Aryeh had been in Europe for almost a year by now and Rivkeh was in her final year of her master's program. The family had not been together in a long time and they missed each other. 16. Asher's "mythic ancestor" would come to him in his dreams and glare with disgust at him.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

The Mashpia had been personally helping Asher with his studies of the Torah and the Hasidus on a daily basis in preparation for Asher to meet the Rebbe before his bar mitzvah. This was to be a private meeting, which was rare, and an honor being that the Rebbe is a very important religious figure. Asher was prepared but not expecting what would happen. The Rebbe is a man of a few words and they are chosen carefully and have a lot of meaning. To Asher's disbelief the meeting was arranged because he approved of Asher to become an artist. He was to go further with his study of art and was going to be tutored by another Jewish artist named Jacob Kahn. Jacob was getting old but was still very youthful. He had worked with Picasso and was famous in his own right. Jacob, although not a practicing Jew, was friends with the Rebbe and had great respect for him. Jacob and the Rebbe both warned Asher that the road to become an artist was a road that entered the world of the goy (non-Jew). They warned him that he may face ridicule for what he was going to do and that he needed to be sure of his decision. There was only one way for Asher to go and it was clear. Nothing else in the world meant as much to Asher as art. Jacob instructed Asher that before their first meeting in two months time he was to everything in his power to master Picasso's Guernica. Asher returned home and told his parents of the Rebbe's decision. This was disappointing to Aryeh. He was in complete agreement of anything that the Rebbe said and did, but this was too much. This was the hardest thing to accept but he had to. For the next two months Asher did as he was told and studied Guernica. He drew it and painted it so many times that he could recreate it accurately from memory. On his first meeting with Jacob, Asher brought in all of his work on Guernica. Jacob was impressed by the work and so was Anna Schaeffer (Jacob's art dealer). She was excited to meet Brooklyn's newest `young prodigy.' Asher started going once a week, on Sunday's, to Jacobs studio. For the first time Asher was surrounded by people that wanted him to be a better artist. Asher and Jacob enjoyed each others company, and Asher started to increase his time spent at Jacobs's studio.

17. Picasso's Guernica that Asher needed to master

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Asher continued to go to school, and so did the ridicule from classmates and teachers. One student in particular taunted Asher on a regular basis. Usually it was a comment in passing, sometimes a comment in class, and then it turned to poems that were left in Asher's Gomorra. The poems poked fun of artist and their lifestyles, and they damned Asher to hell. The normal taunting did not bother Asher and did not evoke any reaction, but the poems got under Asher's skin. When he had finally had enough Asher composed a drawing based on Michelangelo's last judgment by drawing the face of his taunter on the body of one of the dead and damned being boated across the river Styx. Asher went to school the next day and slipped it into his coat pocket. Asher received a lot of joy watching the skinny boy reach into his pocket, pull out the piece of paper and shudder with fear at what he saw. That night Asher went home again and composed another segment from the same painting and put the boys face on the body of being pulled headlong into hell by demons. Asher slid this drawing into the boy's Gomorra and watched him find it. This time Asher really got his point across. The boy's face showed absolute fear, and from this point on he stopped picking on Asher.

18. What Jacob's studio may have looked like.

19. Michelangelo's last judgement painting that Asher took segments from and drew the boys face on the bodies of the damned.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Rivkeh had finished her doctorate and could no longer be away from Aryeh. She was going to move to Europe to be with her husband and they wanted Asher to go with them, but he refused. So Asher moved in with his uncle, both a little unsure of the situation at first, but the arrangement worked out well. Asher was included in with the family and everything was going fine. The summer before Asher was to begin High School he went to Provincetown with Jacob and his wife. They stayed in a nice housed on the ocean where the two artists painted, conversed, and thought about life. It was a summer of ocean and beaches for Asher and he was very happy. He learned a lot about life and himself that summer and he was sad to see it end. He and Jacob had produced a lot of paintings that summer and it required a moving truck to bring all of their work back to New York. When Asher returned home he started school and was studying French, by request from the Rebbe. Asher continued to paint at home and he filled his room quickly with his work. His uncle was a very generous man and decided to fix the attic up for Asher to have as his first studio. His uncle was an encouraging man and was excited to do what he could for Asher to make him more successful. Asher was very appreciative and worked diligently in his new studio. It did not take long for the attic to be filled completely with canvases. His parents remained in Europe, Rivkeh pleaded him to move with them, Asher refused and he stayed with his uncle. High school went by quickly and college was on the horizon. The Rebbe again requested that Asher come and meet with him. The Rebbe knew of Asher's progress and he was happy for him. The Rebbe was concerned that Asher needed to study the Russian language in college and Asher was refusing. The Rebbe pointed out that Russia is rich in art and some day in the future Asher will want to visit Russia, and when that time comes the Rebbe wants Asher to be prepared. The Rebbe is always concerned about the well being of his people and Asher knew this. Asher obeyed and enrolled in Russian, he went to school, he painted, and he was still a practicing Jew. Jacob and Anna agreed that Asher was ready to be revealed to the world of art. There was going to be a full show of Asher's work in Anna's studio. Anna and Jacob went to Asher's attic studio and selected what was to be shown, and it was most of the paintings. His parents were curious but would not come to the show because there were nude paintings. The show went on, the paintings sold, and he was a hit. Asher had mixed feelings about this new experience of selling paintings, of creating something and then seeing it disappear. It was hard for him to accept but he was not upset. A year later there was a second show and the result was the same as the first; they came, they saw, and they bought. He was turning into a very successful artist and he was proud of his accomplishments but he missed his family.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

The Rebbe requested that Aryeh return to Brooklyn and take a position in the Ladover office. The Rebbe had other plans for Aryeh, and Aryeh felt accomplished with his work and was able to leave Europe with a sense of accomplishment. They returned to their old apartment and Asher moved back in with them. It became clear that Aryeh and Rivkeh's relationship had blossomed once again and Asher felt like the `odd man out' with the inside jokes and conversations that Asher was not a part of. Rivkeh talked about all the windows she had waited at fearing the worst about her husband's fate. Her worrying habit became one of the inside joke, but Asher could only remember the anguish Rivkeh was in while waiting for Aryeh to return home. With the change in the family dynamics also came a change in Aryeh's opinion of what Asher does for a living. He was asking questions about art and listening to the answers. He was being more receptive of his son's ability and passion. Barriers that had stood between Aryeh and Asher started to come down and this was creating a happier home life. Aryeh was excited to come to Asher's next show, which he had to be reminded was more than a year away. After Asher graduated from college, he wanted to go and experience Europe: Florence, Rome, and Paris. Traveling around Europe allowed Asher to see countless works of art from many artists and many eras. He also was able to see all the hard work that his father had done. Asher went to some of the Ladover communities that his father helped create and was always met with welcome arms. They loved Aryeh Lev and so treated Asher with great respect. Asher was finally able to understand the work that his father had done and was proud of him. Asher and Aryeh paralleled each other with their lack of understanding of what of the others passion. Asher never understood why his father traveled so much, and Aryeh never understood why Asher drew so much. They were finally coming to a place of common understanding. Asher found that he wanted to stay in Paris for a while and set up a studio. He was lacking inspiration for a while and was having a hard time paintings until he had the idea to start painting his `mythic ancestor.' Asher started to put on canvas the stories that his father had told him. This provided a lot of material for Asher to work with. His next subject was his mother. He wanted to show the pain and anguish that she had been in for most of her life. The only way to show this pain was to crucify her. Asher painted her arms stretched out and tied to the blinds of their living room window. He was able to show the pain that she had been feeling every time that Aryeh traveled and left them waiting. Asher was not completely satisfied with this painting, there was something missing and he didn't know what at first. His second canvas again had his mother crucified to the blinds on the window, but this canvas included himself on one side of his mother and Aryeh on the other side. This showed the struggle she had between the two most important people in her life: her son and her husband. Asher was showing that she had to make a choice of whom she would be with and this was torture for her. He was showing that she was in pain no matter which one she chose. Asher debated destroying these canvases. He was satisfied that he had created them, but did not want anyone to see them. He knew the problems he would face if his mother and father saw a portrayal of Christian symbolism used on such devout Jews. He had no other choice, there was no other way to show the complete sacrifice that his mother made, he could not accurately show her pain using Jewish symbolism. This was his only option, and he knew he would be criticized by his people for using such imagery. Anna Schaeffer came to Paris to see how Asher was doing and was excited to see what he had created. She knew that she had all the material she needed for his next show. She told him to leave the studio while she picked his paintings; she knew it was hard for him to see the paintings go. When Asher returned, all of the paintings were gone; they were all going to be used.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Asher returned to New York, to his parent's apartment, and to his little room. Aryeh and Rivkeh were excited for their son's next showing, mainly because there were no nude paintings and they could finally see Asher's work. Asher was anxious for the show to start, anxious for his parents to see what he had created, and anxious for their reaction. As usual, the show was a hit. Art lovers packed the gallery, they `oooed' and `aaawed' over what they saw. Many of the paintings, including the two crucifixions, were sold before the show started. All of the paintings sold after the first day. When Aryeh and Rivkeh arrived Asher was down at the street ready to meet them and escort them up to the gallery. The three of them walked in, arm-inarm, and Asher took them around the room. It was hard to see all of the paintings because of the crowd but they were so far impressed with his creations. When they reached the final turn of the gallery, there on the wall hung the two crucifixions. Aryeh and Rivkeh walked right up to the paintings and were shocked to see what was before them. People around them whispered `that's them' once they realized who was looking at the paintings. Aryeh and Rivkeh left immediately, they would not look at nor talk to Asher. Asher tried to explain but they would not listen. The whole Hasidic community shunned Asher; his uncle, Reb Krinsky, the mashpia, everyone. The stories ends with the Rebbe telling Asher that he needed to leave New York if he were to remain a practicing Hasid. He was told to go back to Paris where their community was not hurt by Asher's work. This is a sad ending to a sad book. Asher was in constant struggle with the people around him, but remained true to himself. He did not conform to what his community and family wanted. His final act of painting and showing something that he knew he would be ridiculed for was s sign of bravery. Deep down he was sensitive to his community and he knew what their reaction would be. He did not do this as an act of defiance but as an act of accurate portrayal.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

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