Despite the differences between Reuven’s and Danny’s beliefs, both boys exist in Jewish communities that are markedly different from mainstream American culture. Furthermore, as Danny and Reuven talk in earnest for the first time, their similarities surprise them. Reuven is surprised by Danny’s perfect English speech and openness about his feelings—Danny does not fit Reuven’s stereotypes about Hasids. Reuven is learning to see Danny differently, by looking beyond superficial appearances. Reuven finds he and Danny have a lot in common, including an intense competitive drive and a fervent intellectual passion.
The parallel-but-opposite nature of Reuven’s and Danny’s situations emphasizes the difference in their relationships with their respective fathers. Danny wants to become an intellectual, but feels obligated to become a rabbi; whereas Reuven wants to become a rabbi, but feels pressure from his father to be an intellectual. Although Reuven does not discuss his own upbringing in this chapter, we see in Chapter 2 that Reuven and David Malter have an open, easy relationship built upon mutual concern and respect. In Chapter 3, Danny’s descriptions of Reb Saunders’s dominating parenting—the intense daily Talmud study he prescribes, his strong feelings against the apikorsim, his refusal to write or speak to his son—set up a contrast between Reb Saunders and David Malter, and between the two father-son relationships in the book. The contrasts between Danny and Reuven primarily revolve around the issue of choice. Danny is surprised that Reuven has chosen to become a rabbi, and then resignedly describes his own situation by emphasizing that he has no choice but to take father’s place.