Arts and Culture | High Holidays

Books that made a difference — Arthur Yavelberg

Arthur Yavelberg

Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” came to me at an important time. I already had a passion for baseball— how I wanted the ball hit to ME when it really counted. So when the Hasidic yeshiva student, Danny—at that time the menacing, Darth Vader-like Danny—recognized the spin in Reuven’s curve ball, I knew the fire that came into his eyes as he timed the drop perfectly and crushed the pitch.

But as for any spiritual upbringing, I had grown up in a very assimilated family. Any religious feeling I had was tied to “Kung Fu,” a TV show about a Buddhist monk exiled in the Wild West. It was in high school that a friend—hopefully, a girlfriend to be—invited me to an Orthodox Bible class. Like a knuckleball, I found the ideas intriguing — teasing, enticing, but ultimately unhittable.

That’s when “The Chosen” came into my life. I saw that there were other approaches that seemed to allow my kind of questioning. More importantly, Reuven’s father was the sort of warm, accepting character that I found personally appealing. Danny’s father, the “tzaddik” Reb Saunders — whose anger belied any notion of righteousness I ever had — had a black and white attitude to life that was reflected in his clothing. Reuven’s father listened more than he spoke. He seemed to understand — and capture in just a few words just what a teenaged boy needed to hear.

Unlike Reuven, I never made it to rabbinical school. Nor did I ever play second base for the Phillies. But I did find my way into a Jewish life I had never anticipated growing up. It’s far too presumptuous to say I felt “chosen,” but I look back and can’t help but think none of it was an accident. In that way, I think we are all “chosen” and, like Reuven and Danny, we all do a lot of choosing ourselves.

Arthur Yavelberg is interim head of school at the Tucson Hebrew Academy.