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SHORT PLOT / CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
During World War II, Reuven Malter and Daniel Saunders are two sixteen-year-old Jewish boys, living just a few blocks away from each other in Williamsburg, New York. It is not until the beginning of the book, however, that they meet at a baseball game in which Danny injures Reuven.
Danny belongs to the Hasidic sect, an orthodox group of Jews who follow the old traditions and wear beards and ear locks. His father, Reb Saunders, is the rabbi for the Hasids of Williamsburg. He ascribes to all the old Jewish traditions and even raises his son in silence, only speaking to him about the Talmud.
In contrast to the relationship between Reb Saunders and Danny, the relationship between Reuven and Mr. Malter is close and loving. Mr. Malter, a teacher at the school that Reuven attends, is a brilliant Jew who is considered a rebel by many. Being a liberal with a strong belief in Zionism, he brings up Reuven to think for himself and face any situation. Mr. Malter befriends Danny, even before Reuven and he become friends, because he recommends secular books for Danny to read from the library.
Reuven and Danny meet at a baseball match, where their teams are pitted against one another. The game becomes more than a baseball battle, with each team wanting desperately to win to prove their sect to be better. In trying to prove his point, Danny hits the ball at Reuven with great force. It hits Reuven in the face, injuring his eye. As a result, he is admitted to the hospital.
Danny comes to visit Reuven in the hospital and apologizes to him. At first, Reuven is too upset about what has happened to accept the apology; he simply sends Danny away from his room. Danny, however, persists in visiting Reuven. Finally, with Mr. Malter's intervention, Reuven accepts his apology, and they become friends.
Despite their very different backgrounds, the boys have much in common. Reuven and Danny are both very intelligent and good students. They are also athletic and curious. Being born a few days apart, they are the same age and in the same grade at school. Their career goals, however, are very different and ironic. Danny, being the rabbi's son, is expected to become the next Hasidic rabbi, but he truly has ambitions to become a psychologist. Reuven, on the other hand, longs to study the Talmud and become a rabbi.
Throughout the novel, Danny is troubled by his father's silence. He longs to have a warm relationship with him and to be able to tell him his true thoughts, especially about his desire to become a psychologist. Since this is not possible, he shares many of his ideas with Reuven and his father. Mr. Malter understands the Hasidic ways of the rabbi, even though he does not agree with them; Reuven, however, cannot understand the way Reb Saunders treats his son and resents him for it.
When Reuven and Danny complete their high school studies, both boys attend Hirsch College, where they study together and become even closer friends. Then the war ends and the Zionist movement, directed at creating the secular state of Israel as a Jewish Homeland, becomes strong. Mr. Malter is very active in the movement and gives a public speech in favor of it. As a result, Rabbi Saunders forbids Danny to speak to Reuven again, stating it would be a disgrace to his Hasidic followers. Reuven is very upset to lose Danny as a friend and resents the rabbi more than ever. It is especially hard for him with Mr. Malter grows gravely ill, and Danny is not there to help and support him.
The politics behind Zionism even causes friction on the Hirsch campus. It is sometimes so heated that fistfights break out between the pro and con groups. Even though Danny does not publicly support either side, he secretly wishes that he could join the Zionist movement. When the United Nations finally approves the creation of Israel, the fighting between the Jews subsides. Danny is even courageous enough to speak to Reuven again, asking him for help with his math, which has never been Danny's best subject.
When the boys renew their friendship, Danny tells Reuven that he is still pursuing his dream of becoming a clinical psychologist. He admits that he no longer thinks of Freud as a god, and he has even learned to appreciate experimental psychology. He also tells Danny that he has not been brave enough to tell his father that he will not become a rabbi.
Reb Saunders, however, has figured out his son's plans and wants to talk to him about them. Not really knowing how to break the silence, the rabbi asks Reuven to come over, hoping to speak to Danny through him. As the three of them gather for a supposed session on the Talmud, Reb Saunders acknowledges out loud to Reuven that he knows that Danny is planning on going to graduate school in psychology. Reuven can hardly believe his ears. Then the rabbi actually speaks to his son, breaking the long held silence.
He explains how he has been worried about Danny listening to his soul and thanks Reuven for helping the boy to find it. He then blesses Danny's plan to become a psychologist rather than a rabbi. He even makes an announcement about it to his followers at the next religious service.
For the first time, Danny really feels he knows and understands his father. He can now appreciate even his silence. In fact, Danny thinks that when he has a son, he may also follow the Hasidic tradition and raise him in silence.