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Remembering the Life and Legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane, ztk’l on his 29th Yahrzeit

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Rabbi Meir Kahane (1932–1990, centre), founder of the Jewish Defense League, arrives at London Airport from New York to lead a demonstration outside the Soviet Embassy in London, 13th September 1971. (Photo by George Stroud/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

By: Fern Sidman

(The following is the text of the address that I delivered at a previous yahrzeit of Rabbi Meir Dovid Kahane (18 Cheshvan)

I thank you all for coming tonight to remember the majestic life and legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane, zt’l. Some of you here are too young to remember that fateful night in which an Islamic terrorist took the life of Rabbi Kahane. For others such as myself, those few frenetic moments that took place just after 9 pm on the evening of November 5th, 1990 are seared into our collective memory banks forever.

New York Daily News article on Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990.

In a multitude of ways, it is difficult to believe that almost three decades have passed since we were bereft by the murder of our Rabbi. In other ways, it seems like yesterday. For me, there is not a day that passes that I don’t think of Rabbi Kahane, all that he stood for and just how prescient and exceptionally crucial his message was. I often wonder what he would say or do when deadly anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in Europe, or when Israel finds herself under siege in the cognitive war of ideas as expressed in the hideous BDS movement, and on countless other occasions.

Yet, we are confronted by the sober realities of today’s world. Morality is at its lowest level. Racial tensions are high. Egregious forms of anti-Semitism the world over have escalated to dangerous proportions. Assimilation, intermarriage and youth alienation have torn our people asunder.

And yet, amidst these anamolous and frightening times, we recall the words of Rabbi Kahane, zt’l, who enjoined us to “bow our necks to the Yoke of Heaven” to cling to Hashem and to become the harbinger of our redemption. “Moshiach”, the Rabbi said is “knocking and kicking at door, clamoring for us to let Him in.” For those who have eyes to see and ears that truly hear, we know that we are living in Ichdtvei Moshiach, the footsteps of the arrival of our righteous redeemer.

And the rabbi spoke of his vision of the scholar warrior. His mission, he said was not to create a new Jew but to recreate the old Jew, the Jew of the Bible, who immersed himself in the study of Hashem’s law (who was Osek B’Torah) and who rose to battle our enemies with alacrity and complete faith in the One Above.

Followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, ztk’l founder of both the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and the ‘Kach’ party, pray at his grave in Jerusalem. Photo Credit: The National AE

And so in 1968, this Brooklyn born rabbi also rose up with alacrity to address existential issues for Jews in New York, in America and throughout the world. He founded the Jewish Defense League in the shadow of the Holocaust and it became a movement that profoundly changed the course of Jewish history. No longer would the Jew be humiliated, beaten, expelled and murdered without putting up a vigorous fight for their survival. For it was Rabbi Kahane who knew full well that the mantra of the JDL, namely the slogan Never Again did not mean that never again would a Holocaust take place, but never again would we project the image of the victim. He would often say that if the Jew wants the world’s love, he can never get it without first getting the world’s respect and how do we get the world’s respect, by having self respect, he said. And self-respect means standing up forcefully to the panoply of miscreants that seek our destruction on a daily basis

And it was the young Jews who heard the Rabbi’s clarion call. He repeated the words to them that we say every day in our prayers, “Ashreinu Ma Tov Chelkenu”–Happy are we, how good is our lot”–how beautiful it is to be a Jew. And the Rabbi told them of their own unique mission and purpose as Jews. Unlike their local JCCs who were failing abysmally in fostering true and enduring Jewish identity among our youth by offering them transitory diversions, he told young Jews that they were expected to step up to the plate for their people. And history has recorded that as much as the American Jewish youth did for the freedom of Soviet Jews, it was the Soviet Jew who did just as much for the American Jewish youth by releasing him of his own hedonistic and materialistic desires and giving him a cause to fight for.

Rabbi Kahane, ztk’l as a reservist in the Israeli army

The Rabbi often related the story of a huge demonstration for Soviet Jewry in Washington, DC that the JDL had organized in the early 1970s. Scores of young JDL members were arrested for disorderly conduct and hauled into jail, along with the Rabbi. As he stood in the jail cell with many of those arrested, the Rabbi saw that a young man with long hair stood by himself in the corner of the cell crying. The Rabbi did not recognize the young man from previous JDL demonstrations, but went over to him to try and console him.

The Rabbi had thought that the young man was just scared of being arrested and was worried about what would happen to him. So, the Rabbi told him, “Look, there is really nothing to worry about. With these kind of arrests, I can assure you, you’ll be in and out. They won’t hold us here for long.” Wiping his tears and trying to regain his composure, the young man replied to the Rabbi: “Rabbi Kahane, I am not crying because I am scared. I am crying because the realization just hit me that this is the first time in my life that I have ever done anything for my people; the first time I have sacrificed anything for anybody.”

And thus, it was the young Jew who continued to fight for the freedom of Soviet Jews, of Syrian & Iraqi Jews, of Ethiopian Jews, for all oppressed Jews. And it was the young Jew in America who held his head high and went to battle against neighborhood anti-Semites, against neo-Nazis who sought to march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, it was young Jews who took on the Black Panthers who sought to extort bogus “reparations” from Jews as well as Jew haters of all stripes and affiliations. And how did they do it? With a Jewish fist attached to a Jewish head.

“Violence,” Rabbi Kahane said is “never a good thing, but sometimes a terribly necessary thing.” And it was indeed necessary for Jewish survival.

And he said so many years ago, “If Jewish weakness in the eyes of the nation–if Jewish weakness is proof of God’s non-existence, then how do we prove to the nations that the God of Israel is indeed the One God? And not only is He not impotent, and not only exists, but that He is God? Surely, by Jewish victory, Jewish strength”

But the Rabbi was quite cognizant of the fact, that in the galut, the Jew would never be capable of completely eradicating anti-Semitism, and in 1972, he penned the book, “Time to Go Home” in which he called on Jews all across America and throughout the world to leave the dreaded exile of their birth and return to their ancestral homeland of Eretz Yisroel.

“It is time for the American Jew to go home. It is time for him to face that which he instinctively feels in the marrow of his bones but refuses to acknowledge,” he wrote.

Rabbi Kahane getting arrested in New York City after a Jewish Defense League demonstration.

Rabbi Kahane said on the night of his assassination: “When there was no Jewish state, it was the era of the exile and degradation. Now that there is a Jewish state, the exile is going to end whether we like it or not, and the time is now to come home.”

Only six years before the rabbi delivered this address, he was elected to the Knesset and then banned from this government body in 1988, just as his Kach party turned into the third largest party in Israel. Clearly, the Jewish establishment in the US and the government of Israel were terrified to address Rabbi Kahane’s many cogent arguments. They had no answers to the difficult questions that he raised. And rather than debate him intellectually, they maligned him and unsuccessfully attempted to destroy him.

“Name calling is the last refuge of non-thinkers,” the Rabbi often said. “Those incapable of debate, resort to defamation and chastisement.”

They did not want to hear the messenger, so they shot the messenger. Deep down, they knew his words were prophetic and that he was light years ahead of his contemporaries.

“The Jews and Arabs of the land of Israel ultimately cannot co-exist in a Jewish-Zionist state” he wrote in 1981 in his book, “They Must Go”

And way before the term Islamic Radicalism was coined, it was Rabbi Kahane who wrote these prescient words in 1990, “The Muslims are bitterly anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. They combine fervent anti-Zionist nationalism with the even more fervent Islamic creed. That the Arab youth are undergoing an Islamic revival is admitted by one and all.”

He added, “Is there no one who grasps the elementary fact that a country which is defined as a Jewish state cannot be anything except a foreign concept for the non-Jewish Arab?’

So, today if we hear that yet another Jew was slaughtered in his homeland by an Arab terrorist as he has been for over a year now in this wave of lone wolf attacks in Israel it should come as no surprise to us.

Sitting down at a negotiating table with those sworn to our destruction in order to create “two states for two peoples” will not settle the age old dispute between the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Jacob. And Rabbi Kahane knew this as well.

As Rabbi Kahane wrote in his magnum opus, “The Jewish Idea”–”The leprosy of our time is the penetration of alien, non-Jewish culture into our holy camp. Such infiltrations are like the idol brought into the Temple sanctuary, where only the Ark of Testimony was permitted. The tablets in that Ark bore witness to G-d’s uniqueness and unity, testifying that only He and His ideas are exalted.”

What can each of us do to perpetuate the memory of Rabbi Kahane, zt’l? We can keep speaking truth to power. We can hold our elected officials to their promises and demand accountability and transparency. We can educate our children and grandchildren in the authentic Jewish Idea; we can teach them about what true Ahavat Yisrael means. We can set an example for them by imbibing the words of our Holy Torah. We can storm the gates of Heaven with our heartfelt tefillos and we can continue to fight the good fight, knowing in our hearts that Hashem, and only Hashem is with us and controls every aspect of our personal and collective destinies.

May Rabbi Kahane’s precious neshoma have an aliya in Gan Eden and may His memory be for a blessing for all of us.

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