I know something about
The collection can be divided into three themes: Direct reaction to the Holocaust, Haredism meets modernity, and coming of age in the shadow of antisemitism. The stories take place equally on Long Island, where the author hails from and where I spent the happiest years of my professional life, and in Israel, where the struggles within the Jewish community turn Jew against Jew, community against community.
The title story might be a shocker to non-Jews and the majority of Jews who lack a direct connection to the destruction of the Jewish civilization in Europe. Jews have reacted to lesser devastation, a community or a country at a time, either by abandoning the old mores or replicating their shtetl, lock, stock, and shtreimel. What would be done if the goal was annihilation, not simply exile? The "Anne Frank Game" is a macabre parlor game in which the assembled Jews ask each other that if a Nazi regime came to power in (pick one: England, the US, South Africa, Canada), what non-Jew would they hide with? Who would risk everything to do the right thing?
Another Holocaust story is at an Elderhostel bridge retreat that takes place on the same lake as a sleepaway camp. It turns out that, among Jews of a certain age, the little word "camp" is loaded. At once, it meant the Haredi bungalow colonies of upstate New York, the wider Movement camps like Ramah or Harlam, and ...Auschwitz.
In New York and in Israel, the fight is between those who insist on recreating everything, including dress and language, from the home village, those who follow ritual law but dress in a way more consistent with the conservative members of the new community, and those who, whether the observe traditional Jewish law in private, are indistinguishable from the secular world around them. One story about this struggle tells of two Haredi families who establish an outpost in the Arab West Bank. One prospers, while the other falls into bereavement and madness. The outpost becomes an established city. The mad widow and bereaved mother is just as forgotten as the displaced Arabs.
The last category in this collection is the coming of age story. It's one thing to grow up in bucolic Miller Place or Greenport on the North Shore of Long Island. It is altogether different to live on the South Shore, and fight for your right to attend the same
This is a collection that, taken together, paints the most complete picture of Orthodox Jewish life that I have ever read. Its themes of identity, rebellion, and dignity will connect to all readers, for "you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Englander will touch you in your own personal Egypt.