My Name is Asher Lev
Asher begins his studies at the Ladover Yeshiva. He is aware that his teachers are particularly looking out for him since they know that his father is away often, traveling for the Rebbe. He stops drawing; and when queried as to why by his mother, Asher responds that drawing is "from the sitra achra (other side), like Stalin."
Summers were spent at a Hasidic Bungalow Colony in the Berkshires, giving Asher time to spend with his mother. His mother became more organized and concerned with time. When Asher returns home late from school one day, she is frantically worried. Asher's father spends much of his time travelling and reading news about Russian Jews. When he is caught in snow and cannot return home one night, she is terrified. She is reminded of her brother's death, travelling for the Rebbe.
One summer Friday in 1952, Aryeh Lev returned to his family's bungalow in the Berkshires from a trip to Washington. He reveals that a number of Jewish writers, who had been taken prisoner, were killed by the Russians. He is noticeably disturbed.
Asher's fascination with Russia continues. He asks his mother about Yudel Krinsky and Siberia. He reads in a Ladover magazine about the Rebbe's father teaching Judaism in Russia against the will of the ruling authorities.
Six Jewish doctors are arrested in Russia, charged with plotting to kill Russian military leaders. Aryeh Lev is distraught at the news. Later in school, Asher attends a special assembly where the children are told of the event, the evils of the Russians and their hatred for Torah and Jews.
On the way home from school, Asher stops in Yudel Krinsky's stationary store. While buying a notebook and pencil, he asks Krinsky about Russia and discusses the Jewish doctors with him. When Asher returns home late, Mrs. Rackover asks where she should tell his mother he had been. Asher responds that he does not care.
The next day, Asher returns to Krinsky's store to talk to him some more. His mother confronts him about his visits with Krinsky. Asher confesses that he did not tell her he was going because he was scared she would not approve. She tells him he may continue going to Krinsky after school, but must return home immediately after he leaves the store.
Aryeh Lev plans a trip to Washington for a Monday, but falls ill over the weekend. His wife nurses him back to health. Monday morning, Asher asks how his father is. His mother responds that he left a half hour ago, as God wanted him to go to Washington.
Asher's visits to Krinsky's store become more frequent. One day, in a snowstorm, he returns home particularly late. His mother is frightened and asks him if he has any idea what it is like to wait. Her state is exacerbated by the fact that Aryeh is in Detroit travelling for the Rebbe. The next day, she apologizes to Asher for losing her temper. He asks her whether his father's plane will be able to land today. She responds that if God wants it to land, it will land.
It is important to consider the perspective from which we view the events any book. My Name is Asher Lev is written from the perspective of Asher Lev. As such, we are presented with events as Asher experienced them and as he remembers them. This becomes evident, especially in the early chapters where Asher is quite young and events are presented as a young child would see them. This comes through particularly in the scene at the beginning of this chapter where Asher overhears his parents talking about writers who were shot in Russia. The reader only learns about the events as Asher does, first by listening in on the conversation of his parents; then, slightly more information is presented through the simplistic explanation given Asher by his mother when he questions her about the conversation he overheard. There is no advanced talk to political circumstances, attempted negotiations, and the like. Rather, we hear only of the things that a small child would hear about and comprehend—Jewish writers were killed by bad Russians.
After hearing this conversation between his parents, Asher confronts his mother about his father's travels. He asks why he has to travel, and she responds, "because his father traveled for the Rebbe's father," Two important features of Ladover society present themselves here. First, family is central to a Ladover's life. Just as the Rebbe was born into his position, so too is a Rebbe's emissary born into his position. Social mobility within the Ladover community is virtually non-existent. Second, the power that the Rebbe exerts over people is evident. Asher's father derives meaning in life from working for the Rebbe. It is a great honor to work for the Rebbe. The Rebbe is nearly deified; to be in his service is only a step short of being in the service of God.
Potok introduces many small details in order to convey the pervasiveness of the Ladover community. Of particular note in this chapter is a scene where Asher reports of reading an article about the Rebbe in a Ladover magazine that was prepared particularly for youth. The modern reader will see such a magazine as smacking of propaganda, material given to children to reinforce an entire world- view, centered on Ladover Jewish observance and the Rebbe. This pervasiveness finds a different expression in the assembly held in Asher's school to discuss the Russian persecution of Jewish doctors. The children are shown the evil of those who are not Jewish, further reinforcing the good and holiness of the Ladover community and the evil of the other. In giving the children a common evil enemy, it further unites them in a feeling of moral superiority toward the life they live and the community of which they are a part.
When Asher visits Krinsky's stationary store, Krinsky calls him "the son of Reb Aryeh Lev." This further highlights the central role family plays in shaping one's identity and position within the Ladover community.
In the later part of the chapter, Aryeh Lev takes two trips: one to Washington and one to Detroit. In each instance, natural phenomena, sickness in the first case, a snowstorm in the second, create potential complications for the trip. Each time, Rivkeh makes a comment to the effect that if the Ribbono shel Olom (Master of the Universe, God) wants the natural phenomenon to interfere, then it will. If he wants it not to interfere, then it won't. This shows us the extent to which God is implicated as a player in everyday affairs in the world of Ladover Hasidim, in the world in which Asher is raised.
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