My Name is Asher Lev

by: Chaim Potok

Chapter 1

Summary Chapter 1

Before Passover, Asher and his father go down to a store owned by a Ladover in order to buy food that is kosher for Passover. Behind the counter is Reb Yudel Krinsky. Aryeh Lev introduces him to Asher as a man who just came over from Russia. Krinsky sings the praises of Aryeh Lev. Outside the store, Asher discovers that his father had helped the man come to America. Asher is fascinated by this man and mentions him to Mrs. Rackover upon his return home. Asher learns that he had lived in the bitter cold of Siberia. Later, in his room, he thinks about Krinsky and draws him.

Asher's mother begins to recover. She speaks of the work of her brother as incomplete and decides that she wants to begin college. Aryeh asks her to wait a few days before contacting the college so that he might ask the Rebbe's permission. Rivkeh responds outraged, "The Rebbe killed my brother." However, she assents to wait.

The Rebbe gives his permission for Rivkeh to begin college. Asher's father continues his travels. Asher begins his study in a Ladover Yeshiva, a school of Jewish learning.

Analysis

In the first pages, Lev talks to the reader as if the reader knows who he is. He references a controversy in which he has been involved, concerning his artwork. These few introductory remarks before the beginning of the narrative of Lev's life serve two purposes. First, they introduce two ideas central to the book—Lev's artwork and the tension in his relationship with Judaism. Second, this opening presents Lev as a man of importance and interest. By giving us some detail, but not all, the author creates an air of relevance and mystery about this character in order to draw the reader in to the story and engage the reader's interest.

The personal history Lev gives at the beginning of the chapter has a ring of Jewish culture to it—the Ladover community from which Lev comes would have been extremely concerned with Lev's, or any Ladover's, personal history.

When Asher is in his father's office and asks about his father's speaking a strange language, his father tells him that it is French and that he learned it at the request of the Rebbe. This last bit should strike any modern reader as odd. The notion of doing things for the Rebbe, the religious, spiritual, and political leader of a group of Hasidic Jews, is quite common in Hasidic communities, even today. This cultural difference is highlighted throughout the book, with the many references that are made to people doing things at the request of the Rebbe or asking the Rebbe's permission to do things.