Chaim Potok and the Rebbe Walk into a Bar.


farbrengen is a Hasidic spiritual gathering–it can be just a handful of people, or a few thousand. Stories and folktales are told, wordless niggunim are sung, and, more often than not, alcohol is consumed.

At one such farbrengen (watch video here) in Crown Heights, held on Purim 1973, the Lubavitcher Rebbe entertained a throng of non-Lubavitch guests. Starting the previous year, the Rebbe began a concentrated effort to contact writers, reporters, and newsmakers in the secular media, attempting to spread his movement’s message to a larger audience. In a video of the event, directly to the Rebbe’s left,  is the novelist Chaim Potok, author of The Chosen. Just a few months prior to this event, Potok had released My Name Is Asher Lev, a novel whose protagonist is a Hasidic artist.

Potok and the Rebbe met three times over the course of their lives. Although the Rebbe spent much time meeting with people one-on-one–a type of spiritual communication known in Hasidic circles as yehidus, or oneness–Potok never visited the Rebbe in that context. In one of his last interviews, Potok explained why:

“I didn’t want to meet personally with the Rebbe because it was very clear to me that this was a most unusual human being. I didn’t want to spend 20 minutes or half an hour in a room with him, and then have to rethink, undo, restructure, my imagination after that experience….A writer does the necessary encountering for his or her work, and when he feels that his imagination has enough encounter with the reality that he wants to write about, he walks away from the reality and lets the imagination work. You don’t let the reality overwhelm the imagination. That’s precisely why I didn’t want to see the Rebbe [in that way].”

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