Aug 31, 2016
Chaim Potok: The Gay Jewish Romeo and Juliet
I could relate: I was being torn between my artistic interests and my extremely conservative religious heritage (no theater, no movies, no science fiction, no rock music, no nothing but church and the Bible).
And I didn't miss the fact that Asher Lev displays no heterosexual interests. He does, however, become the apprentice of established artist Jacob Kahn, who teaches him about life and love, an interesting parallel to the "coming of age" movies that pair a young boy with an older woman.
Robby Benson in the 1981 movie). The novel follows them from their initial meeting at a baseball game (where Danny's pitch hits Reuven in the eye).
They remain partners to college, where Reuven's Zionism angers Danny's father, Rabbi Saunders (Hasidic Jews believe that establishing a secular state in Israel is blasphemous). He forbids Danny from speaking to Reuven again.
I finished the novel, speechless. An amazing, touching Romeo and Juliet story!
How did a conservative Jewish writer manage to create two touching portraits of same-sex romance?
Certainly not by design. But maybe the gender-stratified world of Hasidic Judaism, where men rarely interact with women outside their families, left a space free of the heterosexist shouts of "Look at the girls! Aren't girls great! Aren't you glad that you are attracted to girls, like every other boy in the world?" When heterosexism stops yelling, gay voices can be heard.