The Chosen

As much fun as this project has been, there is something satisfying with finding a book I’ve already read appear in Lost. That happened with Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I remember reading it twice when I was younger and then once more in high school. It’s just a simple, beautifully written book about an enduring friendship.

The book appears in the season six episode Dr. Linus. Ben finds the book among Sawyer’s belongings after Ilana’s group makes it back to the Beach Camp to prepare for the final battle with the Man in Black. Because I’m a fan of the book, I knew exactly why the book appeared and why it was Ben that found it…but we’ll get to that later in the review.

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With so many other books on deck in this project, I did not re-read this book. I’ll do my best to recap the specific details here. If I miss something or my memory is hazy, let me know. Otherwise, I’m comfortable enough with the general plot and how it relates to Lost to write a recap.

The book takes place in New York City in the 1940s, just after the Holocaust ended in 1945, but just before Israel became a state in 1948. The first scene takes place at a little league baseball game. On one side, there is a team of modern Orthodox Jews, led by pitcher Reuven Malter. On the other is a group of traditional Hasidic Jews led by a dynamic hitter named Danny Saunders. The two teams are fierce rivals; in fact, the Hasidic Jews were only allowed to start a team to beat the very good Modern Jew team.

Reuven gets the better of Danny at first, leaving Danny frustrated at his inability to hit. Eventually Danny gets a hold of a pitch, and sends it screaming up the middle, right at Reuven. The ball smashes Reuven in the face, shattering his glasses, and sending him to the hospital for an eye injury.

Reuven spends a few weeks recovering in the hospital and eventually Danny comes to visit and apologize. There, the two strike up an unlikely friendship and we learn about their backgrounds. Reuven’s father is progressive and is in favor of creating a secular state in Israel. He wants Reuven to be a mathematician, but Reuven wants to become a rabbi.

Danny’s father Reb is the polar opposite – he is a strict Hasidic Jew and the spiritual leader of their sect. Reb expects Danny to take his position when he retires, but Danny is far more intellectually oriented and wants to be a psychologist. Danny’s father raises him in silence. The only time they talk is at a daily Talmud study session, and Danny hates the strained relationship he has with his father.

Eventually, Danny and Reuven become close friends. This lasts for a while until Danny’s father learns that Reuven’s father lectured at a pro-secular Israel event. Reb is an opponent of a secular Israel and is outraged and forbids Danny from speaking to Reuven. Danny reluctantly accedes to his father’s demands.

This lasts for a couple years, until a secular Israel is actually created. Danny’s father lets the friendship resume because it no longer makes sense to oppose the creation of something that has already been created.

The two reconnect as more mature kids about to graduate high school. Danny has come to terms with his silent relationship with his father, but dreads the upcoming day when he will have to tell his dad that he is going to college to study psychology. Reuven offers to help Danny tell his dad about college.

In the end, the conversation with Danny’s father wasn’t all that difficult. His father knew all along that Danny would choose to go to college. He tells Danny that he raised him in silence all these years on purpose – he knew that Danny was working on another intellectual level and raised him in silence to teach him to have the compassion to go with his intelligence. He approves of Danny going to Columbia and the two finally have a real conversation for the first time.

Reuven and Danny go their separate ways. Reuven goes on to become a rabbi. Danny shaves his Hasidic locks, attends Columbia, and becomes a psychologist. Danny finally has a good relationship with his father, and his younger brother takes over as leader of their sect.

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The Chosen is the perfect book for Ben to find at this stage in the show. First, he found it mere moments after Ilana explained that she was there to find candidates. The title is a cheeky reference to the core of season six – the search for the chosen one to replace Jacob.

The episode Dr. Linus really gets to the core of who Ben is at this point in the series. Ben is a broken-down shell of his former self – he no longer has any allies and feels broken and alone, all because he spent his entire life on the Island believing that he was the chosen one. He spent his entire adult life doing everything for what he thought was the good of the Island. His words in the season five finale: “What about me?” speak to his mindset at this point in the show. He always thought of himself as the chosen. Now that it is clear that he is not, what about him?

Beyond the superficial title references, this book gets to the core of the relationship between Ben and Jacob. The relationship between Danny and Reb is very similar to the relationship between Ben and Jacob. Neither father-figure spoke to the son, but both sons had undying loyalty towards their fathers.

Whenever I read The Chosen, I always thought Reb Saunders’ methods were a little off. I get what he was going for, but is raising a kid in silence really the best way to teach compassion? It worked out for Danny, but I’m still not sure how raising a kid in silence teaches compassion. Seems like it would be more likely for the child to turn out bitter and cold.

Speaking of bitter and cold, we come to Ben. Jacob “raised” Ben in complete silence. Ben did not become compassionate at all – he grew cold and manipulative. I don’t think he realized just how cold he had become until Keamy killed Alex in front of him. It wasn’t until Alex’s death that he realized he had dedicated himself to a person that didn’t care to talk to him. And then he became bitter.

When John Locke went to the statue and immediately met with Jacob, that was the last straw. This reminded me of Reb Saunders – throughout the book, he was far more welcoming and warm to Reuven than he was to his own son. Ben was furious that Locke could meet with Jacob that quickly and the end result was a heart-wrenching tirade and a knife to the chest of Jacob.

What was Jacob trying to gain by “raising” Ben in silence? This book might give us a clue. As we later learned in the season six episode Ab Aeterno, Jacob was a big believer in free will. He always wanted people to make the right decision without any intervention. Maybe he was trying to raise Ben to be a compassionate leader of the Others, but the plan failed miserably.

For what it’s worth, I can’t blame Ben for his reactions – I think raising a child in silence will more likely result in more Ben Linuses than Danny Saunderses.

Of course, in the end, Jacob’s silence sort of worked with Ben. It wasn’t until after Ben killed Jacob that he achieved true redemption. And after the finale, Ben served as the number two to Hurley for many years after Jacob’s death. Maybe he was the chosen one after all.

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