Thursday, May 15, 2008

Writers & Artists, Pt. 1

Happy 60th Birthday Israel!

I am reading the most incredible book I have ever read, The Gift of Asher Lev - the "sequel" to My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok.

I cannot put it down. It is not bright, cheerful, action-packed or glitzy. It is the story of a middle-aged artist who has been ostracized from his religious community but has returned for the funeral of his uncle, a joyous man who has secretly been an admirer of his.

This is only one of the books written by Chaim Potok about the Hasidic Jews and their community. There is much to admire and respect in their lifestyle - hedonistic, it ain't.

And with such disciplines that govern every part of their life, there is safety, community, incredible scholarship and brilliance in academic fields, even, Thank God, success financially so we should have enough to eat, Thank God.

Heh. Sorry. That was too easy to write.

Chaim is my new best friend. I love his silences and observations, the first person narrative that makes the reader walk WITH Asher in his quiet sentences, his observant eyes and then, just when you think you can take it no more - "How does this man write so WELL?" he throws in dialogue and examinations that only an artist of great talent would truly appreciate. He tosses in French and great painters and you can smell and feel the paint as Asher reminisces about his dead master, a Jew who "did not return to Torah", Jacob Kahn.

But the Rebbe (Blessed be his name) knew Jacob Kahn - as a young painter who rescued French Jews from the Nazis at the end of World War II. Who had shielded Asher's future wife by hiding her in an abandoned apartment in darkness for two full years.

As I said, you gotta read this. Potok unravels this story patiently, page by page. You know these people. I found myself at one point crying uncontrollably, I felt so directly the fear and terror of this little girl who as an adult could not sleep without the light on.

I wept at the misery and shock and damage that had been done to her. I wept not for the crimes of the Holocaust - those simply enrage me.

No, I wept for the girl who had to live in terror and still kept saying, at the age of 50 "The Master of the Universe has a plan, doesn't he, Asher? Yes - He has a plan."

God damn such villainy. (Yes, I avoid profaning the Name like all Christians should, but that statement is true, real and accurate. Taste the pain for a moment before ignoring it.)

Hell is a doctrine I accept and understand for such men. So did Jesus:

"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who belong to Me to sin, it would be better for a millstone to be wrapped around his neck and to be thrown into the sea."

Forgive me. I am upset.

If want to understand why the U.S. will support and continue to support Israel, and why I, an Evangelical Presbyterian Pentecostal Fundamentalist Compassionate Conservative Christian will back that up 100% and say "Feh!" to anything less is because of the Holocaust and those who's skin was used as lamps.

What truly makes me weep is that Y'shua the Meschach is still hidden from so many.

But there, in the crucifixion, we all see - even Chaim Potok sees - brutality to the Jews and their King.

Do you know what is wrong with the way we teach Christianity? The whole New Testament?

It is written by Jews for Jewish believers in the Messiah, save one book. It is written for them to accept suffering in this world for the world to come. It is written so they will KNOW the Messiah who NOW reigns victorious in those who know Him and who suffer for His Name's sake.

That is, Chaim Potok should be writing about the Messiah, not the guy writing "Your Best Life NOW!"

Feh. I hope not!

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!"

Chaim, I love you. You have written about an artist who has challenged his community to see the grace of Art in all its beauty, not as profane, but as illuminating, even redemptive. Asher Lev, as a protagonist, steps beyond the conservatism and rules to pluck beauty to place in the middle of his dark suited fellowship of communal Jews.

Even the Rebbe sees this. The late Uncle saw it.

Do you know why we need Art? Because beauty and truth belong to God.

But do you know why good Art and good Writing is dangerous?

Because so often men refuse to give credit where credit is due.

"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened."

That, thankfully, is not a failing of the Landover Jews in his novels. They credit God with everything. Maybe too much.

Thank God for Asher Lev. Torah observant, yet creative, obeying the commands yet not worhipping rules, placing love and wisdom above legalities. There is none like him.

Except the King of the Jews.

Sholom aleichem.

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