Weisman’s book never overcomes this foundational flaw: It is based on the wildly inaccurate claim that American Jews are not talking about, thinking about, and calling out anti-Semitism. Weisman, alarmed by swirling hatred and lack of Jewish communal cohesion, seems to have cast about for someone to blame and settled on Jews themselves; his facts are wobbly and his prescriptions are thin. Yet the urgency of his project—finding a unified Jewish identity in a time of fracture, assimilation, and recurring bigotry—marks a development that has been unimaginable to Jews for two or three generations: Once again, hate toward Jews is rising. Once again, Jews are distressingly divided. Once again, there is no easy solution to protect Jews’ moral, political, or physical future.
As its title suggests, Weisman’s book identifies virulent anti-Semitism as the major existential challenge facing American Jewry, a perpetual nightmare that reemerges, cicada-like, in every generation. The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish organization that most actively tracks anti-Semitism in the U.S., reported a major spike in anti-Jewish hate in 2017. Weisman himself has been a target. Like other prominent journalists, he had his Twitter account flooded with hundreds upon hundreds of anti-Semitic memes and slurs. He was marked for the onslaught when a user placed triple parentheses around his name, allowing trolls to locate him easily through a clever web-browser tool. He now wields the parentheses defiantly in his Twitter profile. Appropriately, the marks also decorate the title of his book.
While the problem of anti-Semitism is not novel to the Trump era, Weisman argues, the president has not actively discouraged bigotry, blowing enough dog whistles and making enough excuses to leave far-right agitators feeling empowered. “Whether he knew it or not, Donald Trump ran the most anti-Semitic presidential campaign in modern American history,” Weisman writes. “Haplessness is not a defense.”
Two issues have further exacerbated this rise in anti-Semitism, Weisman argues. One is that Jews are divided among themselves, and have a weak sense of collective identity. Some Orthodox Jews fear that intermarriage, widespread disengagement, and remixed traditions have left liberal and secular Jews unmoored—even tainted. Similarly, many liberal Jews see the Orthodox as “ardently tribalist,” politically conservative, and dismayingly “fecund,” as Weisman puts it. Although Weisman clearly disapproves of Orthodoxy, he is also irritated by the Judaism Lite that seems to define so many Jews’ identities, who “observe or don’t, join a synagogue or attend the occasional Jewish film festival, read Philip Roth, eat bagels and babka, say ‘oy’ ironically.” He sees this as one cause of “the strange, ungrounded nature of American Jewry,” which, he claims, has struggled to articulate a response to the alt-right. “The Jews who are most interested in a liberal, internationalist future, who wish to live progressive, assimilated existences free of threat, are disappearing,” he says. At the same time, “those willing to accept the rising tribalism—to keep to themselves and fortify the Jewish state as an escape hatch or a fall-out shelter—are growing in number.”