The Free and the Brave

  • Review
By – February 17, 2020

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.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions