"My world is the world of
Jewish scholarship," says
novelist Chaim Potok. "The
conflict of values where
individuals are caught right at
the heart of cultures."
BY ALAN ABRAMS
Special to The Jewish News
here he sat, a middle-aged
man with a graying beard,
discussing the finer points
of Jewish scholarship
amidst the incongruous
setting of happy hour
cocktail chatter in the lounge of
Metro Airport's Marriott Hotel.
If you guessed he was a rabbi,
you would be half right. Chaim Potok
is better known as a novelist and
writer even though he was ordained
in 1954 folloWing his graduation
from the Jewish Theological Semi-
nary in New York.
Potok was in Detroit last week to
speak before a dinner on behalf of the
JTS. With only six books to his credit
(The Chosen, The Promise, My Name
is Asher Lev, In the Beginning, The
Book of Lights and the non-fiction
Wanderings), Potok has become con-
temporary literature's ambassador
from the world of Talmudic study.
As befits all literary pacesetters,
Potok and his work were discovered
by Hollywood a few years ago. The
result was the critically acclaimed
box office failure, The Chosen. Pro-,
duced by veteran Ely Landau (The
Pawnbroker, .The Man in the Glass
Booth) and starring Rod Steiger,
Maximilian Schell and Robby Be-
nson, the movie did not fare nearly as
well as Yentl, Barbra Streisand's re-
cent film excursion into the conflicts
in the lives of Torah scholars.
"I liked the movie version of The
Chosen very much," says Potok, as
proud of his child as any father. It
certainly caught the spirit of the
book, and when one considers what
Hollywood often does to a book prop-
erty it acquires, I though they treated
this book with respect, with sym-
pathy and with understanding."
Was Potok involved in the film-
ing of The Chosen? "In an informal
•way," he replies. "They asked me to
be at the set' and indeed I was, very
often along with my wife. The movie
was shot in New York so we would
travel in from Philadelphia (where
Potok lives) to see how it was done.
We would see the dailies (footage
shot that day) and we got to know the
producer, the director and some of the
actors quite well."
Some critics of the film assailed
the casting, but Potok disagrees. "I
thought the cast was quite good,"
says Potok, "and I certainly liked
Steiger and Schell. I thought they did
a splendid job. They were very seri-
Chaim Potok: "I think a serious writer carves out a certain
chunk of the world for himself."