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The Toughest Jews

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“Tell me again, the number. But not loud. In my ear.”
As the plane banked, I whispered in his ear the number of the Swiss bank account, very softly.
“Remember!” he said, clutching my hand.
“Don’t forget!”

Involuntarily, as the story ends, you connect the bank number to the concentration-camp number on the father’s hand when he slapped the boy in the earlier story. And the call to remembrance is, of course, the main tenet of all Holocaust literature. It’s a little schematic. But there’s something about them landing as they do back in troubled Israel, the old man’s final instructions, the burden of the living . . . What Mandelman manages to suggest, in his tough-talking way (one of these stories appeared some years ago in the right-wing journal Commentary), is that when the fathers have spent so long waging war and killing Nazis, the most pressing and difficult task for the sons is not to wage more war and kill more Nazis. It is to make peace.

Talking to the Enemy
By Avner Mandelman.
Seven Stories Press.
144 pages. $20.


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