My Name Is Asher Lev is a novel by Chaim Potok dealing with the tension between tradition and individualism, religion and art. Asher Lev is a boy born into a Hasidic Jewish Family. Asher's father does not approve of his talent for painting and his interest in paintings of nudes and crucifixions. Eventually Asher becomes an apprentice of the artist Jacob Kahn, finds success and gains the approval of his family. However, after painting his masterpiece, a crucifixion depicting his mother's suffering, he is forced to leave.
Asher Lev – Asher is the protagonist and narrator of the story. The book takes the reader through the first segment of Asher's life, ending when he's around 22 years of age. During his childhood, Asher is overwhelmed with his passion for drawing and painting so much that he becomes apathetic towards most ofthe world around him. Because of his lack of dedication and focus towards his education, the people surrounding him (mainly his father) begin to feel ashamed of what he has become. Asher isn't rebelling intentionally, but he has grown too strongly attached to his art that he can't help himself. AsAsher grows older, he learns to channel his emotion and energy into his artwork and becomes immensely successful.
Jacob Kahn – Jacob Kahn is a successful artist. He freed himself from all conditioning forces such as religion, community, and popularity in an attempt to create a lifestyle in which he could express himself freely. He believes in creating balance between inner emotions and true identity. He became Asher's mentor and taught him fundamental techniques that would influence and improve the overall progression of Asher's artistic future. He is extremely firm, and usually so in a demeaning manner.
Aryeh Lev – Asher’s father and an important member of the Jewish community. Deeply committed to his work for the Rebbe, he travels throughout Europe building yeshivas and saving Jews from Russian persecution. Aryeh holds a master's degree in political science and speaks English, Yiddish, French, and Russian. He highly distrusts gentiles due to his father’s death at the hands of a drunken axe-wielding Christian. Aryeh doesn’t understand art and can’t comprehend why his son would spend his life making art. He gets in many disagreements over Asher’s gift which causes him to dislike his son.Aryeh is close-minded, stubborn, and has difficulty with value systems other than his own.
Rivkeh Lev – Rivkeh Lev is torn between her love of her husband and son. She struggles daily with the conflict between them. After she recovers from her illness, she returns to school to finish her brother Yaakov’s work. She receives a master's degree and then pursues a doctorate in Russian affairs. Rivkehis torn, but ultimately sides with her husband, and goes with him to Europe leaving Asher behind to live with his uncle. Rivkeh doesn’t always understand Asher’s art work.
The Rebbe – Leader of the Ladover Hasidic Jews, it is he who orders Aryeh to travel. The Rebbe understands Asher's gift and arranges for him to study under the tutelage of Jacob Kahn.
Reb Yudel Krinsky – The proprietor of the shop where Asher buys supplies, he was rescued by Aryeh after spending years in Siberia. Krinsky feels that Asher shouldn’t cause a good man like his father so much trouble. Despite this, he tolerates and enables the art because he is friends with Asher.
Yaakov – Asher’s uncle who died in a car crash when Asher was six years old. His death had a very profound effect on Asher’s mother. Rivkeh became very ill and depressed because they were very close. Like Aryeh, he travelled for the Rebbe, and this disturbs Rivkeh.
Yitzchok -Asher’s wealthy uncle who supports Asher and his art skills. He is kind and generous, and gives Asher a place to stay while his parents are in Europe. Yitzchok is one of the first to recognize that Asher’s ability can make a fortune, and he invests in his work. Asher lived with him for a while.
Anna Schaeffer – A very sophisticated woman and owner of the art gallery where Asher’s art is displayed. Anna's work to promote Asher's works results in much recognition for Asher. She is introduced to Asher through Jacob Kahn. She is impatient, but cares about her artists.
Mrs. Rackover – The Levs' housekeeper. She is important to the story because she knows about Siberia and the suffering that Reb Yudel Krinsky went through there. She also is one of the first people to understand Asher's artistic gift.