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The key theme of the novel is the importance of relationships. Throughout the book, the close relationship of Danny and Reuven is displayed, but Danny longs for more. He wants a warm and loving relationship with his father like the one he sees between Reuven and his father. When Reb Saunders breaks up the friendship between the boys because of the Zionism issue, Danny is truly lost. At the first opportunity, he re-establishes his friendship with Reuven; but he does not find true happiness until his father breaks his silence and accepts Danny as he is.
Another important theme throughout the novel is the difficulty of growing up, especially as a Jewish boy. Even though Danny and Reuven are the same age and live only two blocks apart, they do not know one another for sixteen years because of the differences between their Jewish sects. When they do finally meet, it is because of an intense rivalry between the sects at a baseball game. Surprisingly, the boys from very different backgrounds become close friends and help one another on the road towards manhood. But the trip is not easy. Danny suffers from the silence he receives from his father and struggles with not becoming a rabbi himself. Reuven endures the pain of his father's illness and his separation from Danny. Both boys suffer when they follow the war that is raging in Europe and hear about the Jews that are being persecuted and killed. It is obvious through the portrayal of Reuven and Danny that the maturing process is never easy, for life is filled with hurts and hardships that a person must learn to endure.
A minor theme that runs throughout the novel is the difficulty of man getting along with his fellow man. In Europe, the Second World War wages and horrendous atrocities are being committed against the Jews. Then when the war is over and there is a Zionist push to create the state of Israel, fighting, both mental and physical, breaks out between the Jews over the issue. In the Holy Land, the Arabs and Jews fight and kill each other over the issue.
Throughout most of the novel, the mood is tense and strained due to the silence between Danny and his father, the break-up of the friendship between Danny and Reuven over the issue of Zionism, and the war that rages as the background setting. The mood lightens at the end of the book when Rabbi Saunders breaks his silence and blesses his son's decision to be a psychologist rather than a rabbi.