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What the Book is About:

Between preparing for his bar mitzvah, memorizing random facts with his trivia team and mediating between his Jewish Granny M. and his Chinese grandmother Wai Po, David Da-Wei Horowitz thinks he has a lot on his mind. Then he realizes that the Soviet Union could start a nuclear war, and that starts to make all of his other worries seem irrelevant.  Set in 1984, with plenty of vintage Cold War references, kids will identify with David’s efforts to keep the peace --and deal with the possibility of war -- between his friends, in his family and his country. 

Jewish Content and Values

  • David’s family celebrates his bar mitzvah at synagogue, where he reads from the Torah and makes a speech. The whole family is called up to the bima to receive a blessing and David’s sister, Lauren, sings “Adon Olam”. 
  • David is twinned with a Russian boy who is celebrating his bar mitzvah at the same time as David. In the process, David learns about the Iron Curtain and how Soviet Jews were not free to practice their religion. 

Positive Role Models

Granny M. is very involved in planning David’s bar mitzvah. She meets with Rabbi Doug and organizes a “Russian Twin,” Alexi, to share in the celebration. Hector, David’s best friend is loyal and keeps his word.  When David asks him to eat spam for 3 days for an experiment, he agrees cheerfully, even though it makes him ill. 

  • Rabbi Doug offers David guidance on how to be a better friend to Hector.
  • David matures throughout the story when he realizes that his friendship with Hector is more important than his junior high social status. 

Content Advisory

David and his friends watch The Day After, a scary made-for-TV movie about the aftermath of nuclear war. Details like losing teeth and hair, X-ray skeletons are discussed. David’s class is reading 1984 and it’s mentioned that some parents are upset that the book contains sex. A Holocaust movie, Sophie’s Choice, is referenced in the context of having to choose whom to include in the fallout shelter the boys are digging. There’s some silly bathroom humor, and David’s flat “tuchus” (behind) is mentioned several times while suit shopping. There’s some very mild budding romance between Kelli Ann and David. 

Topics to Discuss

David agrees to share half of his bar mitzvah money to help Alexi, a Soviet Jew, come to Israel. At first, he isn’t too excited about the idea, but at the end of the book, he seems happy about it. What do you think changed his mind? 

More for You

Most Soviet Jews suffered from a lack of religious freedom as well as discrimination in education and job prospects, but it wasn’t until the American movement to Free Soviet Jewry became powerful, in the 1970s, that activists were subject to exile and imprisonments. Refuseniks (those restricted from emigrating) such as Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in prison, were the heroes of the movement. By the time the Iron Curtain fell, more than 10,000 Soviet Jews were emigrating from Russia each month, mostly to the US and Israel.