Bari Weiss’ urgent new book may be small in size, but it packs a powerful message: there is an alarming increase in antisemitism in the United States, and every single one of us must defend ourselves. In prose that is at once calm and measured, yet strong and rousing, she sounds her clarion call to combat, articulating different types of present-day antisemites, and outlining the methods that will be most effective in bringing us out of what she sees as a rising darkness.
A New York Times staff writer and op-ed editor, Weiss says her book is for “anyone, Jew or gentile, who is concerned not with what is fashionable, but with what is true.” Weiss sees the new, dangerously high level of American antisemitism coming from the far right and the far left, and she examines each threat with an eye toward creating a balanced view of both their goals and tactics. At its core, she sees the aim of antisemitism as the elimination of the Jewish people and Judaism itself, whether this is accomplished through violence or the political destruction of the State of Israel.
Weiss’s exposition of modern antisemitism is deep and layered, and her multifaceted plan for Jews and their allies to fight it is creative and insightful. She does not suggest that we stage protests, write press releases, or facilitate dialogue groups. Instead, she tells us to embrace Judaism, renew our values, and respect ourselves. Weiss states, “There has not been a single moment in Jewish history where there weren’t anti-Semites determined to eradicate Judaism and the Jews.” She urges us to call out hateful speech and actions; to defend other minorities facing bigotry, build community, and support Israel. Join more than one synagogue, she suggests, and consider reclaiming the peace that comes from observing Shabbat.
Jewish authenticity, or positivity, encourages us to be proud of our culture, and firm in our respect and admiration for our historical legacy, Weiss tells us. Strengthen our Jewish identity, and we will strengthen our image in the world.
The book also puts modern antisemitism into historical context, tracing anti-Jewish actions and attitudes through history. Weiss gives a clear sense of how precious she sees the civilization built by and for the Jews. She is an outspoken advocate for Jews and Zionism, and from the outset she makes sure the reader hears loudly and unequivocally the alarm bell that drove her to write this outstanding book.
Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.