The story takes place in a field hospital in Belgium during WWII, with one chapter devoted to each night of Hanukkah. The heroine, Lt. Ruth Mencher, is a nurse in the 64th Evacuation Unit, a woman who wears a visible star of David necklace and is pretty upfront about the fact that she’s Jewish. This is unique not just because of the time period but because not that far away are, you know, the Nazis. All of them, or at least many of them.
The hero, Dr. Joseph Klein, is a quiet and intense doctor in the field hospital. He’s also Jewish, but he’s very quiet about it. The differences in their upbringing—Ruth in a Jewish community in New York, Joseph in Texas where his was the only Jewish family in town—influences how they interact with their own culture and faith during the course of the story. It’s not that Joseph is ashamed of his faith at all; he’s used to being very circumspect about it, knowing that he might be treated differently (and poorly) because of it. He suspects Lt. Mencher hasn’t advanced due to the fact that she’s Jewish and doesn’t hide it at all, which reinforces his desire to keep his faith to himself.
When the story begins, it’s the first night of Hanukkah, and Ruth has been sent a very small menorah in a care package from her family. The battle and the medical emergencies around her are intense, and her job is even more so, but she is determined to take time each evening when the sun sets (Jewish days begin at sundown) to mark each night of Hanukkah. Ruth has had a bit of a crush on Joseph for weeks, but his demeanor, not to mention the fact that he’s a doctor and above her in rank, has kept her quiet about her interest. When it’s time to light the candles, however, Ruth is not about to be dissuaded from inviting him to join her each night.