Chaim Potok, American Jewish author, Died at 73

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Chaim Potok died on July 23, 2002 at the age of 73, he was an American Jewish author and rabbi. Born in Buffalo, New York, to Benjamin Max (died 1958) and Mollie (née Friedman) Potok (died 1985), on February 17, 1929 Jewish immigrants from Poland.

He was the oldest of four children, all of whom either became or married rabbis. His Hebrew name was Chaim Tzvi. He received an Orthodox Jewish education.

After reading Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited as a teenager, he decided to become a writer (he often said that the novel Brideshead Revisited is what inspired his work and literature).

He started writing fiction at the age of 16. Potok began his career as an author and novelist in 1967 with the publication of The Chosen, which stands as the first book from a major publisher to portray Orthodox Judaism in the United States.

With its story about the friendship between the son of a Hasidic rabbi and a more secularly-minded Jewish boy in Brooklyn, The Chosen established Potok’s reputation.

Critics praised the book for its vivid rendering of the closed Hasidic community, while many considered it to be an allegory about the survival of Judaism. Potok followed The Chosen with a sequel two years later called The Promise.

He returned to the subject of Hasidism for a third time with the 1972 novel My Name is Asher Lev, the story of a young artist and his conflict with the traditions of his family and community.

Potok followed this novel with a sequel, as well, publishing The Gift of Asher Lev eighteen years later in 1990.

His novel The Chosen was made into a film released in 1981, which won the most prestigious award at the World Film Festival, Montreal. Potok had a cameo role as a professor. The film featured Rod Steiger, Maximilian Schell and Robby Benson.

It also became a short-lived Off-Broadway musical and was adapted subsequently as a stage play by Aaron Posner in collaboration with Potok, which premiered at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia in 1999.

Chaim Potok has had a considerable influence on Jewish American authors. His work was significant for discussing the conflict between the traditional aspects of Jewish thought and culture and modernity to a wider, non-Jewish culture”.

He taught a highly regarded graduate seminar on Postmodernism at the University of Pennsylvania from 1993 through 2001.

He is survived by his wife, Adena; two daughters, Rena, a Philadelphia-area college professor, and Naama, an actor in New York; a son, Akiva, who is a filmmaker in California; and two grandchildren.

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