Dealing With Antisemitism

.. ropean influences on American life and policy (Amazon). He is a precocious reader and brilliant student of the Jewish scriptures. The accidental aspect of certain things is heavily underscored (Huapt 232). In the Beginning, Potok’s altered ego, the brilliant young yeshiva student David Lurie, undertakes to bridge the gulf between fundamentalism and secular humanism, including ugly aspects of Western anti-Semitism, even at the risk of losing the respect of his family, his friends, and all of his teachers but one (Buning). Moreover, this quest for identity and authenticity has been dramatically accentuated in our century by World War II and in particular by the Holocaust and the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

These unprecedented atrocities require a radical review of the human predicament. Indeed, the traumatic aftermath of these events, particularly of the Holocaust, overshadows all of Potok’s works. He is not only concerned with its devastating after-effects on his characters, but at the same time with what theologians and philosophers call the problem of Divine Providence or theodicy. Centering on the unanswerable question of how God can allow the existence of physical and moral evil in a world supposedly created by Him (Buning). It suggests that the author has decided in favor of religion.

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The book has ascetic, stoical, self-punishing tone, established with its first line. All beginnings are hard and sustained through the painful and sometime repetitious actions of the story. From shortly after birth in the nineteen-twenties, David Lurie is plagued by chronic sinus illnesses that prove to be emblematic of his growing up. David’s inner life, tortured with fears and bad dreams, is followed through the depression, which ruins his family. In the late thirties and forties as the news from Europe grows more and more dreadful into David’s budding years as a scholar buds, David learns that curiosity can be a dangerous enemy of faith. Mr.

Potok’s story cannot be recommended to everyone. Its prose is simple and smooth, but a heavy earnestness pervades it all (New Yorker 193). The book centers on the conflict between the religious life and the life of imagination. What finally, boils down to be a story in which its hero must eventually confront- yes the conflict between orthodox and modern approaches to the scriptures (Huapt 373). ” All beginnings are hard.” In the Beginning opens as David Lurie, now a famous Biblical scholar, now guiding his young students on the dangerous tightrope path of inquiry he himself traveled as a youth–where a misstep might mean hurtling into bitter loss of faith–looks back at his own beginning (Potok 1).

The story is tied to scriptural themes with unaccustomed complexity. I was surprised to see a reference to the Documentary Hypothesis. This is an explanation of how the first five books of the Bible were written. I learned about the Documentary Hypothesis in my Hebrew scripture class. This is a very complex biblical criticism in the middle of a novel.

It does have references to Torah and Talmudic study, so non-Jews and seculars ones might have to look something Despite of the resulting fullness and complexity, the author has mis-estimated. His patterning is too careful, too insistent. When every small episode or description is made thematically relevant, there is a loss of the spontaneity that Mr. Potok’s fluid associative mode of reminiscence seems to require. He proceeds too cautious, as through fearful of spilling a drop of his meaning.

An incidentally effect is make Jewishness seem an exhausting full time condition imposing a conversational style that moves only between the gnomic and wry. The most important aspect of the miscalculation is that within the larger context the author has created, his hero is insufficiently interesting (Irwin 413). Most of Potok’s novels can be seen as the fictional sites of cultural confrontation and how that confrontation affects the people involved in them. The cultural confrontation is between a minority immigrant Jewish subculture and the ‘umbrella’ culture (as the author himself calls it) of Western secular humanism. It is Potok’s particular gift as a novelist and storyteller to have subjected these rather abstract areas of cultural expression to novelistic treatment and to have made them available to the common reader.

He writes about these modern achievements with great enthusiasm and succeeds remarkably well in making them exciting for us, however complex they actually are. Yet, he is not blind to the darker aspects of Western civilization, particularly since its history is fraught with an anti-Semitism that reached its greatest intensity in the Holocaust (Buning). This novel about a Jewish brain box puzzling at the irrationality of history turns out unexpectedly moving. Kept off stage and reflected in miscrosm, the street corner humiliations, the tough gangs of goyim forcing copies of social justice on Semitic looking schoolboys offer much more controllable leverage on our emotions. It is this careful focus which ensures that the conclusion works.

With five million dead in Europe and a race about to make a new beginning, a decision to abandon orthodox Jewish study and see what goyische learning has to offer might seem less than a climax. It is a measure of Mr. Potok’s plausibility and characterization that the act (viewed as treachery by the community) comes across as a necessary, heroic and loyal to a deeper Jewish tradition (Barnes 373) The mythic elements are superbly manipulated Potok has, at last, come to grips with the implicit in all of his previous work: the problem of sustaining religious faith in a meaningless world. He offers no easy resolution. Lurie (the narrator) at the end of the novel is still searching for the truth. That is what makes In the Beginning so powerful.

It successfully re-creates a time, a place, and the journey of a soul. Its ultimate ambiguity is a perfect reflection of the response of an intelligent religious sensibility to life (Nissenson 321). Personally, I found this book to be dull. It was the same thing over and over. It did not hold my attention. It seemed centered on a boy named David who was sickly with some mysterious illness that could not be cured.

The illness was never named. In spite of the illness, the child was bright and intelligent. He was ahead of his peers when he started school. He had self-taught himself to read both the English and Hebrew alphabet. It is centered on a Jewish boy learning how to interact with his parents. It seemed that it was a sequel to another story and it assumed one knew and understood the previous story even though it was not narrated.

It assumes you know and understand the history of the 1930-1940’s. There is one thing that I did find good about the book is that it seems to be writing about the conflicts of pursuing your dreams when every one else is trying to derail your efforts. The story makes you feel that you actually know these characters even though his characters may come from a culture totally alien to the reader. Theater.