Large Crowd Comes Out for Chaim Potok

By Mike Mennard on November 12, 2007

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In a rare public appearance, acclaimed writer Chaim Potok lectured at Pacific Union College on Monday night, February 16. Fortunately, the organizers of the lecture moved the event to a larger venue-the college's church sanctuary-in order to seat the more than 1,200 students, professors, and Potok fans.

The lecture was part of the Longo Lecture Series, founded in 1992 by Lawrence D. Longo, M.D., in honor of his parents, Frank and Florine Longo. Dr. Longo wanted to benefit students with a quality public discussion of religion and society, so he established the lecture, intended to be an annual event. The lecture committee, with Dr. Longo's approval, chose to stage the event biannually in order to have the necessary funds to invite internationally eminent guests.

Potok in his lecture described his difficult-but inescapable-quest to be a "storyteller," a surprising decision for a boy growing up in a Jewish Hasidic tradition. He said, "I remember telling my mother, 'I want to write stories.' She looked at me and said, 'That's wonderful. You can write stories on the side when you are not working as a brain surgeon."

According to Potok, "Nothing is sacred to the novelist." A good novelist can take a reader into a world different from her own and look at it closely, objectively.

His own work, based largely on his Jewish heritage, highlights religious and societal cultures in conflict. However, he doesn't always offer easy answers-or any answers at all-to the tensions. "Why would I even write a book if I had all the answers. I often write because I don't have the answers?"

Following the lecture, Potok signed books and spoke with his appreciative readers for more than two hours.

Potok's award winning best-sellers include The Chosen, The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, In the Beginning, The Book of Lights, Davita's Harp, and The Gift of Asher Lev. His newest book, The Gates of November, chronicle a Jewish family's true story of survival in Soviet Russia. And currently, he is completing a biography of Isaac Stern.