Bari Weiss was born near the mid-point of the 1980s. She writes that she had always considered herself “among the luckiest Jews in all of history.” And she probably is, along with all her peers who were born some four decades after the end of the Second World War in the United States, a country that adheres to the rule of law, in a Jewish community which provided an ever-renewing canopy of inspiration and a family that believed that tomorrow must be better than today and who actually strived to make it so.
Weiss has epitomized that striving throughout her professional life. Currently a staff writer and editor for the opinion section of the New York Times, she has also been an op-ed and book review editor at the Wall Street Journal and a journalist at Tablet, the online magazine of Jewish politics and culture.
The genesis of this, her first book, was the slaughter of 11 worshippers on Oct. 27, 2018 in the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, Pa. The craven murderer shouted, “Jews must die” as he fired deadly rounds into defenceless men and women. As a child of that neighbourhood, Weiss felt compelled to respond, to “wake up” the Jewish and wider community to the increasingly penetrating encroachment into the U.S. body politic of the deadly “disease of the mind” called anti-Semitism.
Weiss is worried that “deeper cultural and political forces surging on the right and the left are transforming (the United States), with profound implications for a group (the Jews) that constitutes less than two per cent of the population.”
The primary focus of the book is the rise of the manifest hatred in the United States directed at Jews. She speaks directly to her co-religionists, but not only to them. “This book,” Weiss writes, “is for anyone, Jew or gentile, who is concerned not with what is fashionable but with what is true. This book is for anyone, Jew or gentile, who loves freedom and seeks to protect it. It is for anyone, Jew or gentile, who cannot look away from what is brewing in this country and in the world and wants to do something to stop it.”
How to Fight Anti-Semitism is a short book, with some 200 pages, but is not a quick read. It calls upon the conscience and weighs upon the heart. In six compact chapters, Weiss pens a powerful cri de coeur. The three chapters in which Weiss describes the “three-headed dragon” menacing America – anti-Semitism from the far-right, the far-left and radical Islam – form the core of the book.
Weiss has not written a comprehensive treatise on the subject. Nor did she attempt to. She recently told The CJN that if she were to rewrite the book now, she would add a “greater examination” of events in Brooklyn, namely the recent attacks by mostly young blacks against visibly obvious Jews. She also would have included her impressions of “the unbelievable solidarity that was exemplified by the British Jewish community” in uniting to prevent Jeremy Corbyn’s party from forming the government.
Weiss has written a searing chronicle and analysis of recent violence and other threatening manifestations of hatred against Jews in America and in Europe. She wrote boldly and forcefully, calling out the dragon’s dangerous fire from whichever direction it immolates the truth.
She criticizes American President Donald Trump for willingly flirting with anti-Semites on the far-right.
Weiss appears most pained, however, in depicting the malevolence aimed at Jews from the far left. Corbynism (the transformation of a major political party into a hub of Jew hatred) “is not confined to the U.K.,” Weiss writes. “Right now in America, leftists who share Corbyn’s worldview are building grassroots movements and establishing factions within the Democratic party that are actively hostile to Jewish power, to Israel, and ultimately to Jews.”
Her pain is not phantom.
Just last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the Democratic party’s candidate for the presidency, noisily refused to address the annual American Israel Public Affiars Committee (AIPAC) conference because of his stated concern that they provide a platform “for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”
Sanders’ accusation was, of course, a vile calumny against AIPAC and thus too against the Jews and non-Jews who attended the conference.
Much in the same manner that Trump panders to his voter base, Sanders does the same thing. His vilification of AIPAC was a shameless sop to his core voters. But far worse, he drips more anti-Israel – and ultimately anti-Semitic poison – into the minds of some of the young idealistic if uninformed voters who support him.
In the concluding chapter, Weiss shares her views on how to deal with the rising menace. This chapter is the lightning that illumines the darkened sky.
She offers a subjective, multi-pronged prescription for individual and collective action. Inspired some years ago by an essay written by Ze’ev Maghen, now a professor of Middle Eastern history at Bar Ilan University, Weiss adopts his approach to defeating the dragon: not to be defensive, but rather to be aggressively positive in embracing the Judaism that anti-Semites, with all their sinister deceptions and threats, aim to destroy. In effect she prescribes a life of Jewish and civic responsibility.
“Maghen’s essay … fundamentally reoriented my posture. It moved me from crouching to standing, from defense to offense, from doubt to confidence, from shame to pride,” she writes. “There has not been a single moment in Jewish history in which there weren’t anti-Semites determined to eradicate Judaism and the Jews. But the Jews did not sustain their magnificent civilization because they were anti-anti-Semites. They sustained it because they knew who they were and why they were. They were lit up not by fires from without but by fires in their souls.
“Likewise, we fight by waging an affirmative battle for who we are, by entering the fray for our values, for our ideas, for our ancestors, for our families, for our communities, for the generations that will come after us.”
Bari Weiss has written a compelling book. Especially heartening is the fact that she is an inspiring avatar of the younger generation now holding high the torch and joining her elders in the long march of the eternal Jewish people.