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What the Book is About:

Twelve-year-old David lives in Jerusalem. While volunteering at a home for the elderly he befriends 70-year-old photographer Heinrich Rosenthal. When an enemy of Mr. Rosenthal’s from before the war, known as ‘the Bully of Heidelberg’, accuses him of stealing a priceless painting and challenges him to an old-fashioned duel to the death, David must do some quick thinking to save his friend's life. This is a quirky mystery by one of Israel’s most celebrated authors, David Grossman.

Jewish Content and Values

  • David hatches a plan to save Heinrich's life, showing ometz lev (courage of the heart) in the face of danger that he himself could have avoided.
  • The boy’s respect and friendship for the older man are examples of honoring elders and making connections between generations, l'dor v'dor.
  • The story is set in Jerusalem in 1966, and the historical and geographical setting is embedded in the story.

Positive Role Models

  • David shows loyalty, perseverance, and resourcefulness in his determination to help his friend, despite his own fear about the situation.
  • Mr. Rosenthal is accused of a crime he did not commit, but he feels that participating in the duel is a matter of a code of honor that he must adhere to.

Content Advisory

The book contains some mature, though not explicit, content: both of the elderly men at the heart of the story were in love with the same woman, and Mr. Rosenthal lived with Edith without their being married. Edith was an emotionally disturbed woman who had several intense relationships before marrying a British soldier; the relationship, in Mandate Palestine, was disapproved of by the Jewish Resistance, who shaved off her hair as punishment. 

Talk it Over

Mr. Rosenthal felt the need to participate in the duel even though he was innocent because it was a matter of honor. David helped him instead of going to the police because he respected Mr. Rosenthal’s wishes. What would you have done if you were in David’s shoes?
More For You

After World War I and before Israel declared independence, the land of Israel was under the political control of the British in what was called Mandate Palestine. The Jewish community there was known as the Yishuv. The Jewish Agency looked after the administrative needs of the Jewish community, including running schools and hospitals, while a militia was formed to protect Jewish communities; disagreements over the extent to which it should be proactive on the offense as well as defense caused it to split. The original group, the Haganah, became the core of the Israeli army, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

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