In last Thursday's Jerusalem Post (21 February 2008), Elliot Jager, an editor at the Jerusalem Post, wrote a review of Libby Kahane's biography of her late husband, Rav Meir Kahane, may his memory be for a blessing and may G-d redeem his blood.
One paragraph in Mr. Jager's review caught my eye and held it.
I don't know if Meir Kahane saved Soviet Jewry – though he certainly put the issue on the front pages of the newspapers – but he undoubtedly saved thousands of American Jewish youths like me, not only those who joined his Jewish Defense League, but those who benefited collaterally from it. And for that, whatever his failings, I, for one, am in his debt.
Like Elliot Jager, I too am in Rav Kahane's debt. I benefited collaterally from the Jewish Defense League, attending its karate lessons (for a dollar a pop), and seeing something I had never seen in my entire life – Jewish pride in operation, up front and personal – in Brooklyn.
What a difference a JDL demo was from the demos of the peaceniks protesting the war in Vietnam!!
I went to both in the late '60's. At the anti-war demos, the stink of pot was always in the air as kids with red armbands tried to keep order until the inevitable police charge on horseback and billysticks, panic and tear gas replaced the stink of pot and antiwar slogans. I remember one demo where cops were chasing us up one of the avenues in Manhattan. Seeing the cops bearing down on us, I saw the Milliner's Synagogue, (now known as the Millinery Center Synagogue) banged on the doors and screamed in Yiddish, "Cops! Fascists! Help!! Open up!!"
A fellow opened up the doors and let a bunch of us in. We ran into the synagogue and the rabbi told us to sit on the floor in a circle. It wasn't exactly MinHa (afternoon prayers), but when some cops burst in, they saw us and the rabbi sitting on the floor and sneered "are these your guests, rabbi?"
He nodded in the affirmative; the cops snorted in contempt and left.
On the news it always recounted how many anti-war demonstrators had been arrested and how many had been beaten and sent to hospital.
At the JDL demonstrations, we marched with pride. Many of the cops confronting us, especially the Jewish ones, felt bad about having to block our way. You could see it on their faces. The city brass eventually replaced the sad faced cops with the Tactical Patrol Force, cold blooded scum who were the forerunners of today's SWAT teams and Yassam Unit of the Israel Police. We fought the bastards.
When reporting the JDL demos on the news, reporters recounted how many policemen and demonstrators had been sent to hospital, and then how many demonstrators had been arrested.
The idea that Jew-hatred was the problem of the Jew-hater and that it was the job of the Jew to "educate" the Jew-hater not to manifest that hatred – expressed in the following Talmudic dictum "he who raises his hand to bless you, bless him first; he who raises his hand to kill you, kill him first" – was truly liberating for me, who had always been taught that "good Jewish boys don't fight".
It wasn't Rav Kahane who brought out the idea in me that being Jewish was more important than anything else. I've always felt that way. But Rav Kahane made clear the issue of immigrating to Israel in terms of blasphemy, Hillul Hashem, as opposed to blessing G-d (and bringing G-d's blessing upon oneself in turn), Kiddush Hashem. To this day, I remember this in a lecture he gave in a Manhattan Beach synagogue. That lecture was over 30 years ago, and its lessons did not come to fruition until I realized in 1998 that a sickened American culture was about to steal my children from me. But the seed had been planted, by seeing Jewish soldiers conquer the part of Israel I live in today, Samaria, in 1967; by seeing Jewish pride in operation in the Jewish Defense League in the late 60's and early 70's; by seeing how the world tuned against the Jewish people in the 1970's; and finally by that lecture in that Manhattan Beach synagogue. And like Elliot Jager, I returned to Israel and made it my home.
Rav Kahane was not the perfect person. I remember him as media hound in America, and apparently there were times in his life when he did not behave as a rabbi ought to. But he eventually developed a scholarly side and wrote some very painful articles on Jewish identity that should be required reading for any person who claims to be a Jew. It was truly a sad day when he was murdered in New York in 1990 by an Arab, and a sadder day when the jury refused to find the Arab who killed him guilty of the crime. But it is my opinion that it will be necessary to go beyond many of the ideas of Rav Kahane in the not too distant future.
As Elliot Jager puts it,
He was a product of his times. Rabbi Meir Kahane – as man and phenomenon…could only have sprung to prominence in the tumultuous time and perilous place that was New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was the perfect storm for Diaspora Jewish militancy. Entire urban Jewish neighborhoods were under siege: synagogues firebombed; cemeteries desecrated; elderly Jews beaten mercilessly….Jews who could flee to the suburbs did so (enabling many to hang onto their liberalism), while those of us trapped in the five boroughs were left to our own devices.
In his review, Jager correctly pointed out that the rich Jews living in these suburbs (or Manhattan enclaves), well-heeled, acculturated leaders of the Jewish establishment, were cut off from the concerns of their poor and mostly Orthodox coreligionists. Prominent Jewish organizations, settlement houses and even so-called Jewish hospitals became devoted to serving the black and Puerto Rican communities. There was no money for Jewish education (Rav Kahane used to excoriate Jewish education in his weekly articles in the Jewish Press); none for the Jewish poor (who were thought not to exist); and nothing – needless to say – for defense in the inner-city jungle. In fact, only after the JDL attacked the offices of the Jewish Federation in Manhattan, where my cousin Hattie, z"l, a typist there, cowered while angry yeshiva youths and radicals stormed the halls and offices of the chief "Jewish" charity in New York, were funds found for programs where Jewish student organizations could be funded, or where volunteers could call old people living in the Bronx to see if they were at least alive.
At the other end of the Jewish communal spectrum were Old World rabbis painfully disconnected from the pulsating temptations and lurking dangers that surrounded their charges. I remember talking to the younger brother of a girlfriend of my youth, a yeshiva boy, and seeing how utterly ignorant of Jewish history he was. I, a nearly secular Jew, knew a lot more than he did; I was shocked to discover that his school did not teach Jewish history at all!!
Jews in New York seemed to face the choice of hanging on to the waning yiddishkeit, Jewish culture of the shtetl, brought by immigrants in the early 20th century, embracing by hook or by crook the phony Judaism of the limousine liberal crowd, or walking away from the whole kit and caboodle at the first opportunity.
Those times have passed into history. They are long over, and the world is moving on. For us in Israel, we are now the besieged, in a way we never were in the past. The internal unity of our country has been shredded by a corrupt upper class that slavishly worships Christian America or pagan Europe. The socialism that once ameliorated life here somewhat is distant history (only health insurance and the dead hand of socialist bureaucracy remains); it has been replaced with a capitalism run wild, a culture of exploitation that is only matched in its viciousness by the shtetl culture of eastern Europe that young Jewish men and women like my father fled a century ago, hoping never to see it again. But it is here again, even amidst the cell phones, rave parties and ecstasy pills.
Thirty years ago here, pickup trucks used to carry workers to and from their jobs. On the back of the trucks were written poalim, the word that then meant worker, and which is related to the Hebrew root "to operate". Today, workers are called 'ovdim' in Hebrew, a word related to the word for "slave" 'eved. The country that consumes the second highest amount of vodka per person in the whole world is Israel. This is not merely due to the influx of Russians in the last 18 years.
Our security is compromised by that same corrupted upper class that worships America and Europe, an upper class that has the stink of the limousine liberals who fled to Long Island, Westchester and the exurbs of New York City 40 to 50 years ago. Katyushas, Grads and Qassams fall increasingly on our cities and towns, and the limousine "liberals" of Tel Aviv don't give a damn. More and more Israelis are beginning to feel in their gut the abandonment the internal refugees of Gush Qatif have felt for two years. In fact, it appears that the only thing they do give a damn about are accounts in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands or the Channel Isles as tax shelters.
Ironically, the whole nation of Israel is much like the besieged Jewish community of New York City 40 years ago. All over Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, you can see the truth written on the walls; Kahana tzadak! "Kahane was right!"
Kahane was right.
But he is dead, and we as Jews, and as Children of Israel, will have to move beyond the vision of Rav Meir Kahane, z"l, hy"d. We will have to do this in order to make of our home here more than just the "first fruit of redemption." The first fruit must be allowed to grow into the Tree of Redemption, the tree that will blossom and bring us out of the evil into which we have fallen and into the sunshine promised us by our Prophets.
We, the Children of Israel, have a role to play in history. We have to arise, reclaim our pride and dignity and play that role without fear in a world that is beset by terror, fear and confusion.Powered by Sidelines