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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Chaim Potok was born on February 17, 1929, in Bronx, New York. He was brought up as an orthodox Hasid even though he did not wear a beard or ear locks. His family, however, closely observed the Shabbat and the Kosher dietary laws. His brother became a rabbi and his sister married one.
Potok was a good student in both his secular and religious studies. As a young man, he realized he was more attracted to a conservative Judaism rather than an orthodox one.
When he graduated from college, he chose to enter the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was ordained a conservative rabbi in 1954. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.
Potok married and had two daughters and a son. He served as a chaplain with the U.S. forces in Korea from 1955 to 1957. He was also the editor of the Jewish Publication Society of America from 1965 to 74, when he became special Projects Editor. He also spent much of his time writing.
During most of his life, Potok pursued writing, starting when he was still in school. Most of his publications are about Jews and have an autobiographical element in them.
His most well-known books include the following:
The Chosen (1967)
His novels are widely read because they have a straight forward, easy-to-read, colloquial style.
Besides his novels, Potok has published a number of short stories and contributed to various journals and magazines. In addition to his literary career, Dr. Potok has taught at various universities in the U.S. and in Israel. In the classroom he is particularly vocal about issues related to Jews and Judaism.
Chaim Potok admits that he was greatly influenced by Evelyn Waugh's novel, Brideshead Revisited, which dealt with the world of upper class British Catholics. Because of this novel, Potok decided to write about Jews and Jewishness, concentrating on the Jews who lived in America. To learn how to write, Potok set about studying the works of great writers like Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, and Ernest Hemmingway.
Like the novels that Potok studied, The Chosen is written in a straightforward, colloquial style. It is constantly moving towards its climax, without flashbacks as interrupters. The immediacy of the novel arises from the background references to news about the war in Europe and the Zionism issue. It also captures the lifestyle of the Jews living in America.
The Chosen was set during the latter part of the Second World War. Germany had already invaded Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, and the Russians had occupied Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. By the time of the novel, the Allies had begun to push the Germans into retreat. Many of the conversations and news reports in the novel were about the Allied victories. References were also made to the surrender of Germany in 1945 and of Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The outbreak of the Second World War was primarily the result of Adolf Hitler's burning desire to establish Aryan supremacy. His deep-rooted hatred for the Jews resulted in the senseless slaughter of six million of them during the war. There is much concern about these atrocities in the pages of the novel.
After the war, many Jews wanted to create a homeland in the Holy Land. On November 29, 1947, the United Nation partitioned Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs. In retaliation, fighting broke out between the two races, and many lives were lost. Then a new Zionist state, named Israel, was proclaimed in the Jewish area of Palestine on May 15, 1948. Jews all around the world could identified themselves with the New Independent State.