This book deals with the lives of two Jewish boys during WWII, one being a Hassidic Jew. Although they are Jews, their sects do not associate with each other - the Hassids seeing non-Hassids as less then them.
Reuven is the non-Hassid Jew. He grows up with a wonderful father who has discussions with him, who shares with him every day, who studies the Talmud with him in an almost scientific manner. Their lives are filled with pleasantness.
Revuen meets Danny, a Hassidic teen, during a game of baseball. They immediately hate each other, but after an accident, the two are drawn together. Reuven gets to visit with Danny's strict family, gets to see Danny's father, a venerable strong Rabbi and witnesses Danny & the Rabbi's interactions, or better yet, lack thereof. Danny's father won't speak to him unless they are studying the Talmud; that's it. No more. And Danny gets to see Reuven and his father.
It's clearly painful for Danny. He is beyond intelligent - he's a genius. He devours books, books he can never discuss with his father, who would forbid him reading anything other than the Talmud or school books. Danny is next in line to be Rabbi of his sect, and dreads it with all his heart. He doesn't want it. He wants to study psychology. The idea would tear his father apart.
The boys' friendship grows throughout high school and college. They share the utter despair and pain that most American Jewry does as the horrors of the fate of European Jews is revealed at the end of the war. Six million Jews dead. There is a call to arms by Zionists, and a stronger call to stand down and let the Messiah take action by the Hassidic community. Reuven and Danny are caught in the middle and can no longer communicate, for fear of Danny's father's wrath.
The strength of their friendship is palpable. Are there any boys in this day and age with this strong of a relationship? I don't know.
The boys eventually do get their friendship back on track and Danny finally realizes that although his father never talks to him, his father does love him and believes he raised Danny in silence to save Danny's soul. Danny, who is so intelligent that the rabbi fears he will be too logical, and not spiritual enough. He wants Danny to hear the silence between the 2 of them. He wants Danny's soul to yearn, and in a way, the rabbi succeeds. The rabbi also knows of Danny's plans to not become a rabbi and is not upset; he knows Danny is too intelligent, craves too much, to settle. Danny cuts off his beard and ear locks, and heads to graduate school to become a psychologist.
And Reuven? Reuven wants to be a rabbi; to heal Jewry.
His father's words touched me:
"Human beings do not live forever Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value there is to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than a blink of an eye? I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.".
As Do I.