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The Chosen

Chaim Potok

Theme: Religious Conflict: Finding Your Own Way
Grades: Grades 9-10


Summary:
Set in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1940s, The Chosen explores the friendship between two 15-year-old boys. Reuven Malter, an Orthodox Jew, and Danny Saunders, a Hasidic Jew, meet during a fiercely competitive softball game, which results in a serious injury to Reuven's eye. Eventually, the rivals become friends. We learn that Danny's father, a strict Hasidic rabbi, has plans for his son to follow in his footsteps, despite Danny's wishes to the contrary. Reuven cannot understand why the rabbi never talks to his son, except to discuss religious teachings. After Reuven and Danny become college students, the divisive issue of Zionism nearly ends their friendship. At the end of the novel, the two boys graduate from college and make plans for the future: Reuven will study to become a rabbi and Danny will pursue a graduate degree in psychology. Danny's father regretfully accepts his son's decision.


THEME OPENERS
  1. Linking to Today: Religion.
    Help students explore the subject of religion in the United States today by identifying the different religions that Americans practice, by describing current religious controversies (such as the debate over school prayer), and by discussing the role that religious leaders play in their communities. Finally, ask students to compare their own impressions of the importance of religion in the United States today with the role of religion in the lives of the characters as they read The Chosen and the related readings.
  1. Bildungsroman.
    Discuss with students the concept that The Chosen is a bildungsroman. This German term literally means "formation novel." The principal subject of a bildungsroman is the protagonist's moral, psychological, and intellectual development. This maturation process typically involves a crisis and results in the protagonist's recognition of his or her identity and role in the world. In The Chosen, for example, Danny faces a dilemma--whether to become a rebbe like his father or to pursue his interest in psychology--and makes a difficult decision to be true to himself. Ask students to think about what the pivotal incident or crisis might be if a bildungsroman were written about them.
CROSSCURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
  1. Hasids in the Big Apple.
    Have students research contemporary Hasidic life in New York City. What problems have the Hasids encountered in recent years? How successful have they been in preserving their traditions and in maintaining their communities? Have students give oral reports about their findings. Alternatively, some students may wish to do a multimedia presentation.

  1. Book Chat.
    Invite students to read other works by Chaim Potok (The Promise,1969; My Name Is Asher Lev, 1972; In the Beginning, 1975; The Book of Lights, 1981; Davita's Harp, 1985). Then divide students into small groups and have them conduct book chats about the novels that they have read. Encourage students in each group to draw comparisons to The Chosen whenever possible.
RESEARCH ASSIGNMENTS
  1. Guest Speaker.
    Ask students to prepare a list of questions they have about Jewish history, beliefs, traditions, customs, practices, and so forth. Then invite a rabbi or Jewish educator to speak to the class, answer the students' questions, and suggest interesting topics of research and sources of information. After the visit, students should pick a topic that interests them and then investigate their topics in greater depth, using a variety of sources.

  2. History of Zionism.
    David Malters becomes very active in the Zionist movement after the end of World War II. Find out more about the history of Zionism, including when and why it began, who its main leaders were, and how the state of Israel was established. Write a report on Zionism, concluding with information on its present-day focus.