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  • Reverend James Squire

The Road Less Traveled

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

There is an underlying dynamic in people that creates this ability to take the road less traveled, to work hard, and to take risks.

I learned about this underlying dynamic from Chaim Potok, the author of The Chosen and other novels. Chaim Potok authored popular books and was a rabbi in the conservative tradition. All of our students on the Merion Campus were required to read The Chosen.

Potok was influenced by Evelyn Waugh’s book, Brideshead Revisited. It is a story about different cultures that co-exist on an English estate. All of Potok’s novels deal with the confrontation of different cultures and difficult choices that need to be made as a result of encountering different perspectives.

I asked Rabbi Potok to come to our campus and to speak about his novels and the values in life that are necessary to confront different cultural values.

As a result of this invitation, we became friends. We certainly represented two different cultures, but somehow we found a lot of common ground. He told me a story that I have passed on to my children and others so that they would know that I understood their effort and passion on the road less traveled.

Chaim shared with me that in the conservative Jewish culture it is frowned upon to become a writer of popular fiction as opposed to scholarly works for academia. In this manner, he experienced his own core cultural confrontation.

He wanted to write novels. His mother discouraged it. Then his popularity took off and he was recognized as a brilliant novelist. His book, The Chosen, sold 3,400,000 copies. He still felt his mother’s disapproval. Once on a visit with his mother at Miami Beach, Chaim walked down the beach and saw many people with his book in hand. He asked one person if he could see the book. It had an inscription inside which read, “To_______signed, the mother of Chaim”. She had come around to supporting his passion.

This gave me the perfect opportunity to ask the question that was burning inside me. “Chaim, what empowered you to go up against your culture, and more importantly, your mother to become a popular novelist?” He looked at me. There was silence. A smile came over his face and he proclaimed, “I wish I had a choice.”

In a recent exchange with one of my sons I told him that I would always support him one hundred percent. I also expressed my worry. His response was, “Don’t worry. I am fine!” I told him that it is natural for parents to worry when they watch their children struggle, but it is my job to let them know I am with them. Still a part of me wishes they chose a more conventional path in life.

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