A leading scholar of Judaism explores just about every manifestation of contemporary anti-Semitism, with plenty of history included for context.
Lipstadt (Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies/Emory Univ.; Holocaust: An American Understanding, 2016, etc.), a winner of the National Jewish Book Award, relates the grim reality of anti-Semitism through an unusual format: an invented correspondence between herself and two fictional characters, one a brainy Jewish university student named Abigail, the other a non-Jewish university law professor deeply worried about pervasive hatred of Jews on campus and elsewhere. The epistolary structure is unvarying, so some readers may find it artificial and tiresome—but as the information in each piece of correspondence builds on the previous letters, a coherent and frightening narrative begins to take shape. Lipstadt personalizes the book by citing anti-Semitic issues she has faced. Even after devoting most of her career to the study of the Shoah, she writes, she had a very difficult time piecing this book together. Writing about the depressing present and dark-looking future caused her unexpected anguish. As part of the correspondence driving the narrative, the author defines anti-Semitism, offers a five-pronged taxonomy of hatred, provides contextual explanations such as the similarities and differences between Jews and blacks as targets of hatred, delves into non-Jews who rationalize their evil ways, examines the phenomenon of Holocaust denial, and looks at anti-Semitism on college campuses. Another noticeable element throughout the book is the conundrum of Israel as a special land created to safeguard Jews. The author and her two composite correspondents wrestle with the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, including what could and should be done to achieve de-escalation in the region. Lipstadt closes the book on a somewhat upbeat note by explaining how and why Jews should reject being cast as victims and nothing more. “You will encounter antisemitism along the way,” she writes, “but I entreat you to avoid letting this ‘longest hatred’ become the linchpin of your identity.”
A didactic tour de force presented approachably.