There is much to learn about American history as one reads this fictional account of the battle for Fort McHenry waged against British troops in 1814. American Jewish history plays an important part in the story. Jewish volunteer soldiers are among the defenders of Baltimore Harbor and the fort. They fight with dedication and courage, although Jews are prohibited from holding political office and are unable to eat the food provided by the army; they must await the delivery of kosher food brought to them by family and friends. Twelve-year-old Jacob, the narrator of the story, and his fourteen-year-old friend and relative, Abraham, wish to join the Fencibles, a volunteer army corps defending the United States, and are disappointed that they are too young to fight. Nevertheless, they face danger and fear as they bravely bring kosher meat to the Jewish soldiers under enemy fire and relay important war news back to the people in town.
A clear picture of the era is presented as the reader learns that horse carts are the major means of transportation, wood-burning stoves are the source of heat, most communication depends on word-of-mouth in spite of the existence of newspapers, and explosives are used as a frequent weapon by both the American and British armies.
Abraham is an accomplished young man. He can read the Torah, lead synagogue services, and is a gifted violin player. Both he and Jacob are deeply patriotic and are willing to sacrifice and face danger in order to serve their country.
Although the story is somewhat repetitive and the pace can be slow at times, this slice of American Jewish history gives an important educational message. The youth of today can find meaning in examining the significant role of Jews in the emerging American society. Readers will also focus on the value of community, dedication to one’s country, and the need for self-reliance in an uncertain world.