Zack Gurevitz is a former Green Beret turned junkie living in Chicago, during a time of fear and unrest in America. As a young Jewish man on the streets, life is doubly dangerous for him. The government has ordered the round-up of all American Jews, so they can be moved into ghettos, supposedly for their own protection.
Power in the US government has been seized by an organization called 88wh1te. They are a white supremacist organization that aims to make America (cough) great again, by which they mean ensuring that only white, non-Jewish people can live freely in America. And so, dark history is repeating itself. In author Harold Benjamin's terrifying America, Jewish families have been robbed of everything: jobs, property, money, and basic rights. They aren't even allowed to go out from their police-guarded ghettos into open society without a Star of David pin on their clothes containing a tracking device.
Zack doesn't really care. He has his own problems. He was excommunicated when he was young by his own father after being kicked out of his yeshiva school for getting into a fight, and subsequently sent to a military academy. Later, in the Army, he was able to join in the Special Forces as a sniper, only to be shot himself in Afghanistan. Since his discharge, he has been living on the streets trying to beat a heroin addiction. But when an old friend from the Army pays him a visit at a local methadone clinic, Zack knows something is up. It can not have been easy to find him. He has no house, and no car. Therefore, he has no address, no phone number, and no license plate. This friend, a man by the name of Moshe Rosenblatt, brings news of a brewing situation.
There have been rumors circulating that an attack is being planned on the Jewish "Protective Zone" (read: "ghetto") in Detroit. Rosenblatt wants to recruit Zack to help stop the attack, largely because of Zack's expertise as a sniper, but also because the secret nature of his missions means that neither his identity nor his Jewish blood is a matter of record in military databases.
Rosenblatt takes Zack to the ghetto to meet the man in charge, a man named Reuven Simkin. Simkin tells Zack about the plan, which is to dispatch Zack to uncover the truth about the attack: who is in charge of it, what kind of attack it is to be, and when it might happen. Zack wants no part of this mission. Simkin's son is the one with whom he got into the fight that led to his being expelled from school, and Simkin himself who saw to it that his life was ruined afterward. But lingering memories of a once-strong connection to his faith convince him to accept.
Zack has to use the skills he picked up from the Army to hide from, dodge, and fight anyone who threatens his mission, but he soon discovers that there is much more to the plot than anybody realizes, even the people actually wrapped up in it.
Judenrein is a dystopian novel that portrays what America will end up like if we continue to go down a path of discrimination and xenophobia. In the streets, prejudice and violence against minorities are common happenstance. Laws are made to prohibit them from enjoying a normal life. Jews especially suffer these injustices, though the antagonists in the book are also clearly hostile towards African Americans (there is much use of the n-word), Latinos, and the LGBTQ+ community.
The word judenrein is German for "free of Jews," the 88wh1te organization's hope for America. The members have swastika tattoos, and greet each other with the phrase "Heil Hitler." In the book, Benjamin makes direct, clear, unmistakable connections to the current situation in America: At one point, MAGA graffiti is spotted, there are a couple of references to Fox News, and the characters use of words like "libtards." Benjamin shows clear dissatisfaction and disgust with the current state of race/cultural relations in this country, and I sadly have to agree with him in that regard.
I really enjoyed this book. Not only is it politically aware, but it is current. Anti-semitism is again taking root in America, and we still deal with racial, sexual, and religious discrimination despite our progress as a nation. Just look at the news this week, and you'll see the story of how a white police officer killed a black person for no obvious reason. The fact that it is 2020 and we still have to deal with unwarranted prejudice is astonishing, and we need to take a step back and realize what could happen if we let hatred spread unchecked. It has happened before!
Judenrein provides an excellent snapshot of what will happen - again - if hatred, discrimination, and violence are allowed to continue to pollute the hearts and minds of people.
Full disclosure: I was contacted by the author himself roughly a week ago via email, and he offered to send a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I agreed. Two or three days later, I got this copy with a handwritten note inside, saying, "For Julia, Wishing you much success in all your endeavors! Harry B." Mr. Benjamin, I want to thank you for your generous gift. I loved every page of your book!