My Name Is Leigh Hershkovich
As you know quite well at this point, I pride myself on being able to balance my passion for writing with my deep devotion to my religion. I’ve said it several times before, and I’ll say it again: While I am driven by my passion for writing and for the written word, Judaism comes first. If, say tomorrow, someone asked me to denounce my beliefs for the sake of my writing, I would drop writing on the spot. As important as it is to me, and as much as this passion pulses through my veins, it comes second to the beliefs I hold high and know to be true. But, again, that doesn’t make the balancing act easy. There is a lot of flip-flopping involved. While this balancing act is something that I have gained almost full control of, there have been times in the past (as I am sure there will be plenty of instances in the future), where I have felt myself crossing the lines of acceptance. My self made boundaries have smudged time and time again, as is normal. I am, after all, a mere (wo)man of flesh and blood, and as such, it is expected that I should make mistakes. It’s knowing how to bounce back from them that marks the difference between strength and weakness.
On Thursday, I took a break from the world of self promotion for a night at the theatre with my friends. One of the greatest parts of living in New York is that I am only forty-five minutes away from some of the greatest forms of entertainment in the world. This particular trip to the theatre was to see ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ based on the book by the award winning author Chaim Potok. I was familiar with the story line of the novel, though I never read it. Novels by Potok were the only banned books in my house when I was a child. His stories usually revolved around the Orthodox community, and shown a disgraceful light on the Orthodox community as a whole, though particularly on the Chabad sect, of which I pride myself on being a member of. Though I did read ‘The Chosen’ in school, outside of an education setting, those books were off limits. I knew going into the theatre that the theme would be particularly harsh on the Orthodox world, and I walked in with my fight face on. The Orthodox community has become so skewed in to the eyes of the world. Though we have had our fair share of positive light shown on us in the past couple years, the harsh feedback we get seems to, at times, overpower the good that we do.
My Name Is Asher Lev tells the story of a young Orthodox boy named Asher Lev, whose brilliance and prodigy like talent for art takes everything he knows of the world by storm. In post war Brooklyn, when Jews were struggling to rebuild themselves from the devastation of loss, for an Orthodox child to find himself within the confines of the secular world was something to be shunned. Though he manages to find a balance between his religion and his art, the sacrifices he makes throughout his journey cut him off, at times almost completely, from the world from which he stemmed. As an artist, many of the emotions and decisions that he made resonated with me on a deep level, but at the same time, I could not understand why he felt the need to sacrifice as much as he did. Perhaps it was his unstable home life that caused him to run towards the unknown, perhaps it was just a drive for his passion that blinded him to his decisions. Either way, it was almost painful to watch the character shape before my eyes, for it was a transition that I very much recognized in myself.
Though I have never been in the compromising situations that Asher Lev finds himself in throughout the play, there have been times where my love for literature has taken my mind to dark, uncomfortable places that I wish I never had ventured to. I have read some of the most important pieces in literary history, and there have been times where reading these things has made me so uncomfortable that I’ve felt the need to shower in order to wash myself of the disgust I felt. Yet, over time, my barriers came down. As I became more comfortable with uncomfortable topics, I felt my walls coming down, and the boundary lines smudging. It took a couple of hard doses of reality of life on the outside to find my center again, but I managed to find it. The trick is knowing what your limits are, and sticking to them like glue.
There has to be a way of one to balance themselves in a healthy way, without feeling as though religion is sacrificing the love of art, or vise versa. There are things I would never do, but sometimes, I do wonder about what my life would be like if I started to slip up. At the end of the day, knowing that I have something to anchor me down to my roots allows me to roam the world without severing ties with who I truly am. First and foremost, I am an Orthodox Jew. Forever and always, I am an emissary of the Rebbe and I stand strong for my beliefs. Secondly comes my passion for the written word and for the literary world which I make myself most at home in. Finding the balance means aiding one world with the other. Knowing my strengths means being able to take myself out of any situation that would compromise or sacrifice my beliefs and release me from my roots. Being open minded means that I can enjoy both worlds, without losing my voice in either. My name is Leigh Hershkovich, and I am an Orthodox Jew and an author.