The Serpent and the Red Thread, a book for today's world

Diane Bederman's newest book, The Serpent and the Red Thread, a Definitive Biography of Evil, will strike a chord in the souls of those who stand aghast at the Jew hatred in our world today.

Rochel Sylvetsky, | updated: 13:00

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]Yonatan Zindel Flash 90

It didn't start in Monsey, Jersey City or the Tree of Life Synagogue, with the Holocaust or the terror against Israeli Jews. It started millenia ago.

When Jews the world over fast on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av to mourn the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem, that timeline is what they are mourning. They sit on low cushions or on the floor in semi-darkness, mournfully chanting Jeremiah's timeless Book of Lamentations and reciting Kinot, a compilation of elegies originally describing the nation's grief at the loss of the Temples and Jewish sovereignty, while praying for their restoration.

As the centuries passed, Jewish history became a continuous chronicle of persecution and pain in which one horror after another befell the exiled chosen people, so additional Kinot were written. They mourned the massacre of European Jews during the Crusades, the burning of the Talmud in Paris, the expulsion from Spain which also occurred on the 9th of Av, the vicious pogrom in York and more - and there was more, much more. In my own lifetime, Kinot were added mourning the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

The Kinots' classic imagery includes the vision of a woman, Mother Rachel, weeping bitter tears (Jeremiah 31:15), mourning for her sons, and Zion, likened to a inconsolable figure whose beautiful cities and beloved children are no more.

The Kinot weave the fabric of Jewish suffering, the sad narrative of a people destined to suffer unending tests of endurance, unending and inexplicable hatred.

And as I read the 98 powerful and lyrical pages of The Serpent and the Red Thread, a Definitive Biography of Evil by Diane Weber Bederman (Mantua Books), I felt I was holding a book made from the fabric of the Kinot, woven from the very same red thread of evil she chillingly describes as winding heinously and endlessly on through time.

Spewing Jew hatred whenever and wherever it appears, the red thread's source is the Garden of Eden serpent's mouth. As the Passover Hagaddah says, "in every generation they stand up to destroy us" - and that is the summary of Jewish history, both ancient and contemporary, a humorless "déjà vu all over again."   

This is a hard-to-categorize book.  It is filled with biblical verses and midrashic allusions, but its genre is not Judaic Studies. While it contains a plethora of facts and historical perspective, it is not a history book. It is a comprehensive, even detailed record of anti-Semitism from time immemorial, but it is not written as an ordered chronicle of events, nor is it an anthology.

Using the 9th of Av Kinot as a paradigm, it seems to me that the book is a powerful 21st century dirge, a grief-filled collection of new lamentations. Each chapter is an elegy, sometimes poetic, sometimes evocative, sometimes descriptive, the whole forming an ongoing saga and an emotionally charged j'accuse of humanity's capacity for evil – of the evolving forms of Amalek's enduring and irrational Jew-hatred.

The red thread running through the book leads to the greatest evil perpetrated by mankind, the unequalled barbarity of the Holocaust, following the rise of hitler (written with a lower case h throughout the book) and German nationalist delusions taken to extremes of pagan madness.

Paragraphs such as this one are harrowing:  "The winds of Wotan. The faithful votaries of the roving god wandered relentlessly along the roads…it was Wotan who burst open the gates of the fortress of death. And the German people… lived as if possessed and they set in motion a horror never before seen."  That horror includes, as the author writes, both the egregious idiocy of banning Mickey Mouse as an example of Jewish-inspired vermin, the calculated cruel exactness of the Final Solution, as well as the frenetic end-of-war drive to kill as many Jews as possible even if that contributed to losing the war.

Appearing throughout the book, Abraham, Sarah and Isaac are given the role of the classic Kinot's mourning figure of Zion, her millions of innocent, murdered children personified in Elie and Sophie whose journeys to the burning furnace brought this reader to tears, while Jesus is an observer who cannot reconcile his message of peace with the blood-soaked way his disciples acted on it throughout history.

Still haunting this reader is the imagined, unanswerable and oxymoronic question Isaac asks of G-d in the book: Was Abraham's symbolic act in fulfilling G-d's will, his binding of Isaac at the altar, incomplete? Had he actually been sacrificed, would his descendants have been spared? Is that the real meaning of the story?

And we, this generation of Jews, sacrificing young people for our longed-for Jewish State, suffering the many victims of terror, fighting the resurgence of violent anti-Semitism in the Diaspora, are moved to ask: Have we not yet filled the vessel of Your tears, O Lord?  Ad matai? How long, how much longer?

No, the spool of red thread did not finish unwinding with the Holocaust. The Red Thread of Evil has found a home in the hands of the followers of Islam, intent on destroying the Jewish state and exterminating the Jewish people. The Red Thread is reappearing in Europe and becoming fashionable in the Land of the Free.

Tracing this generration's thread, Bederman does not mince words about Obama's UN treachery, Iran's role as the modern Amalek, anti-Semitic Western media and universities, BDS supporting European nations, Democrats, churches, antisemitic NGOs and African-Americans, all willing accomplices in the campaign of lies, distortions and violence against Israel and the Jewish people - the people who miraculously have returned to life from the Valley of the Dried Bones.

Commenting on the book, Kay Wilson, author of The Rage Less Travelled, wrote: "Bederman takes us down the historical paths of nations, religions and ideologies to uncover the webs that trapped and devoured the people who gifted the world with compassion and ethics... It is a cry from the heart, a warning...The author burdens us with the freedom of choice. Whoever we are, we have amoral duty to combat this hate that in living memory saw to the annihilation of millions of human beings in the name of progression."

One way to begin to combat this hate is if the masses of young people, Jews and non-Jewis in high schools and universities, who know so much about intersectionality, moral relativism, liberal progressivism and Palestinian Arab propaganda, but so little about the history of antisemitism - man's ultimate betrayal of his creation in the image of G-d - are exposed to the hard truths in this book and to the unequivocal denunciation of evil it contains. Read it and see that others do.