RABBI MEIR KAHANE: His Life and Thought (Volume One: 1932-1975)
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by Libby Kahane
Hardcover, 761 pages (including index) + 32 additional pages of photos
Published by the Institute for the Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane
Distributed by Urim Publications
Rabbi Meir Kahane was born in New York City in 1932. He studied at the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, receiving rabbinic ordination in 1956. That same year, he completed his law studies at New York Law School, and he subsequently received a master’s degree in international law from New York University. After serving as a congregational rabbi, he founded the Jewish Defense League in 1968 in order to combat the rise in antisemitism.
Concerned about the alienation and assimilation of Jewish youth, Rabbi Kahane spent two decades touring American college campuses, exhorting Jewish students to learn about Judaism, make aliya to Israel and stand up proudly as Jews.
In 1970, he spearheaded a campaign of Jewish activism that led to the emigration of tens of thousands of oppressed Jews from the Soviet Union.
He entered the political arena in Israel when he made aliya in 1971 and was a member of the Israeli Knesset from 1984 to 1988. He wrote several best-selling books, including Never Again!, Why Be Jewish? and The Story of the Jewish Defense League. His widely-read weekly columns appeared in The Jewish Press from 1961 to 1990.
About the Author:
Libby Kahane was married to Rabbi Meir Kahane from 1956 until his untimely death in 1990. Together with their four children, they moved to Israel in 1971, where Libby was employed as a reference librarian at the National Library in Jerusalem for twenty-seven years. Her research experience combines with her first-hand knowledge of events to present a comprehensive survey of Rabbi Kahane’s ideology and political strategy, beginning with the childhood experiences that shaped him. She is a proud grandmother and great-grandmother.
Quotes from Rabbi Meir Kahane excerpted from book:
"When the chips are down, you know who’s going to fight for the Jew? Only the Jew. And it’s about time we understood this." (1971)
"If all anti-Semitism could be made, by magic, to disappear, the American Jew would still face a problem of survival. The disease of assimilation and alienation of Jewish youth from its heritage and people is often spoken about, but its full gravity and danger are not comprehended by most of us. We face the problem of young Jews by the hundreds whose lack of Jewish identity and pride and whose Jewish rootlessness combine to drive them into foreign fields and hostile ideologies....
At the same time, in Israel, the ironic growth of a similar Jewish identity crisis has arisen to plague the state with young Jews who identify with the state but not the Jewish people and whose alienation from Jewish heritage and tradition has now been joined by weakening of ties with their fellow Jews in exile." (1972)
"Jewish survival and redemption are proof eternal and ultimate that the world is not governed by logic, by sanity or by man. It is controlled and decreed by G-d." (1975)
"The Jew who makes his body bend to his will is a man who has no chains on his arms. The Jew who hears the cry of fellow Jews and casts off from himself the vanities and nonsense of money and sterile status ... and leaps into the waters of duty – this is a man who has come out of Egypt." (1975)
Reviews of Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought (Volume One: 1932-1975):
"This is an extraordinary tale of a man with a vision and a mission, whose life's journey was passionately directed to promoting Torah, Jewish pride and power, and the Zionist dream. Rabbi Meir Kahane, teacher, writer, and activist, is portrayed in exceptional detail and vividness, a kind of day-to-day serial drama. His boundless dedication to the Jewish people, skillfully animated and painstakingly documented in this comprehensive biography, can serve as an inspiration for Jewish youth today, as he did in his lifetime. A major figure in modern Jewish history, Meir Kahane can now be judiciously assessed and appreciated through this new and gripping volume."
–Dr. Mordechai Nisan, author of Toward a New Israel: The Jewish State and the Arab Question (lectures on the Middle East)
"Your biography is well-written and meticulously researched. (Your years of work as a librarian, which you discuss in your manuscript, clearly came in handy.) The combination of memoir and biography works well, and the narrative is structured around a combination of interviews and careful archival research that largely lets your late husband speak for himself, with only limited editorializing on your part, which was a very wise decision...
A work of scholarship that attempts to contextualize his actions both personally and historically, and let readers draw their own conclusion.… You try to show the person, the husband and father, behind his bitterly controversial political persona.
It will be a major addition to our knowledge of a very turbulent period in Jewish history."
–Dr. Peter Eisenstadt, editor in chief, Encyclopedia of New York State and Encyclopedia of New York City
It's hard to think of a 20th-century Jewish figure who inspired so many of my generation to stay Jewish, yet who also generated such visceral loathing among our elders.
Rabbi Meir Kahane - as man and phenomenon - could never have arisen, much less flourished, had he been born in Melbourne, Johannesburg, London or even Los Angeles. Whatever his gifts and foibles, Kahane 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. It seemed as if the city's liberal mayor, John V. Lindsay, had traded peace with the volatile black and Puerto Rican communities - offering affirmative action, community power-sharing in the form of decentralization and enhanced welfare services - at Jewish expense.
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.
From their suburbs (or Manhattan enclaves) the well-heeled, acculturated leaders of the Jewish establishment were cut off from the concerns of their poor, mostly Orthodox, coreligionists. Prominent Jewish organizations, settlement houses and even so-called Jewish hospitals became devoted to serving the Negro and Puerto Rican communities. There was no money for Jewish education; none for the Jewish poor (who were thought not to exist); and nothing - needless to say - for defense in the inner-city jungle.
At the other end of the communal spectrum were the Old World rabbis, including those in my Orthodox Lower East Side yeshiva, who were painfully disconnected from the pulsating temptations and lurking dangers that surrounded their charges.
The choice seemed to be: We could hang on to the waning yiddishkeit of the shtetl, embrace by hook or by crook the faux Judaism of the limousine-liberal crowd or walk away from the whole kit and caboodle at the first opportunity.
Into this maelstrom burst Meir Kahane, seemingly offering a third way: engagement in politics, ethnic pride, self-defense, a channel for our adolescent energies and (I thought) a redefinition of what it meant to be Jewish.
For those who think of Kahane exclusively in the Israeli context, as the founder in 1974 of the anti-Arab Kach movement, his contribution to American Jewish continuity can easily be overlooked.
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.
It's a cliche to call a woman "long-suffering," but if anyone deserves that appellation it is Kahane's widow, Libby, who for all the years of her husband's activism stayed out of sight raising their four children, only to lose Meir to an Islamist assassin in 1990, and son Binyamin Ze'ev to a Palestinian terrorist in 2000. She has now, hesitatingly, entered the limelight by writing the story of her husband's life until 1975. A concluding volume is in the works.
If, as Spanish essayist Jose Ortega y Gasset argued, "Biography is a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified," this book doesn't qualify. Instead, the author's stated aim was to produce an authoritative study of her husband's "one-man struggle to promote the Torah way of life."
Yet, to her credit, Rabbi Meir Kahane can't be dismissed as pure iconography. Indeed, this important work is not easily pigeonholed.
A deeply private, religious woman, now a grandmother, Libby Kahane is in no position to produce either an impartial assessment of her husband's place in history or a kiss-and-tell best-seller. Instead, the author, who is a professional librarian, has done much of the archival and chronological heavy lifting that will one day allow a more dispassionate - and, with a bit of luck, fair-minded - biographer to write the full-scale, balanced and yet illuminating biography Meir Kahane deserves.
Kahane was born into a relatively comfortable family. His father was a pulpit rabbi during the Great Depression. Meir was educated in the yeshiva school system, developing a stutter which he overcame with great effort only in adulthood. He joined Betar in 1946, Bnei Akiva in 1952. Meir told Libby that he quit Betar because he wanted a more Orthodox environment.
At any rate, he met her at a Bnei Akiva meeting in 1954. "After several months, Meir asked me out. I have always felt that Meir and I were fated to marry," she writes.
That's about as personal as this volume gets.
Kahane studied at the illustrious Mirer Yeshiva during the day, graduated Brooklyn College night school and married Libby in 1956. Their dream was to make aliya and for Meir to work for the Foreign Ministry. This option was closed to him, as Libby tells it, because Kahane belatedly discovered that opportunities went exclusively to Labor Party loyalists.
Along the way, Kahane received his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Abraham Kalmanowitz, got a master's in international relations from NYU and a law degree from New York Law School (he failed the bar exam, which many do on the first try, and never tried again). Afterward, Kahane went through a series of jobs: newspaper delivery man, pulpit rabbi and budding journalist, sometimes writing under the name of Martin Keene.
The murkiest years in Kahane's life (hardly covered in this book) are those between 1963 and 1965. He and his college buddy Joseph Churba set up a Washington think-tank that never really took off. This was when Kahane sometimes went under the name Michael King and reportedly did not lead the lifestyle one would have expected from a married Orthodox rabbi.
You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to speculate why this clean-shaven, modern Orthodox man ultimately reinvented himself into a religious obsessive.
Around this time, Meir started writing for the Brooklyn-based Jewish Press, which would be (despite some intermittent friction with publisher Rabbi Solomon Klass) his main source of income. The tabloid would also become his bully pulpit. Kahane was extraordinarily prolific, yet Klass never paid him enough to make a decent living.
In 1968, in the context of increased levels of violent Jew-hatred stemming from New York's minority communities, Kahane, with attorney Bert Zweibon and public relations man Mort Dolinsky, founded the Jewish Defense League. Dolinsky soon left to make aliya and became head of the Government Press Office. Zweibon became JDL's general counsel and Kahane's ostensible No. 2.
This book is replete with detail: names, dates, speeches, columns, travels, ripostes to trial judges and so on. We learn that Kahane's first arrest came when he held a sit-in at the NYC Board of Education in downtown Brooklyn, demanding that the agency terminate two black anti-Semites who had ensconced themselves in a local school board as part of Lindsay's decentralization scheme.
Later, when black militants threatened to turn up at Temple Emanuel on Fifth Avenue to demand "reparations" from Jews for supposedly exploiting black folks, Kahane and his fledgling JDL showed up with baseball bats and lead pipes to protect Jewish honor. That incident gained Kahane tons of publicity and gave JDL plenty of traction.
Kahane soon diversified JDL's activities to the struggle for Soviet Jewry. He employed his knack for public relations, together with bluff, a whiff of violence and a pinch of intimidation to generate badly needed attention for the movement. From there, it seemed only natural to channel JDL's energies toward defending Israel from US pressure to abandon the territories captured in the Six Day War.
Along the way, he started a variety of front groups, including DIJEL to press for democracy in Jewish organizational life; the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Activist Organizations; and Shuva to foster the mass aliya of US Jewry.
Kahane was both a brilliant theoretician and a master logistician. Yet given how many balls this one-man act had in the air at any one time, he inevitably fell short when it came to following through.
As Kahane's face became well known, followers urged him not to go anywhere without security. Poignantly, and perhaps more tellingly than intended, Libby Kahane writes that "Meir adamantly refused to have a bodyguard. He had complete trust that God would protect him in his efforts to help His people."
Only with hindsight does it strikes me that Kahane had become delusional about his role in history and his omnipotence. For all his brilliance, media savvy, boundless energy, micromanagement skills, writing talent and charisma, as the years went on Kahane's views became ever more sensational, his schemes ever more grandiose. There seemed no one he could turn to for a reality check; no one to rein him in.
At the end of the day, Libby Kahane's work is indispensable for the detail it provides. Yet it disappoints in offering few insights into Kahane's complex personality.
I hope she allows herself, in the second volume, to get more personal. It must have been a severe blow for him to have been rejected by Menachem Begin and the Jabotinsky movement. Was that what helped push him to ever greater theological and ideological extremism? These are the things readers really want to know.
Meir Kahane was a flame - both illuminating and incendiary. This book is only part of his story.
Jerusalem Post (Feb. 22, 2008)
Libby Kahane Recalls Husband In New Biography
Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League and the Kach movement, remains one of the 20th century’s most controversial Jewish figures.
Seventeen years after his assassination, however, Rabbi Kahane has partially faded from view. Some loyalists continue to read or order his books online. Others watch clips of him on YouTube. But the vast majority of people know little more than a few slogans: "Kahane was right – expel the Arabs" or "Kahane was a racist and bigot."
Now, with the publication of Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought, Volume One: 1932-1975 by his wife of 34 years, Libby Kahane, readers can reacquaint themselves with Rabbi Kahane, the man, and the ideas for which he gave his life.
Libby Kahane lives in Jerusalem and worked as a librarian at the National Library in Jerusalem for 27 years. The Jewish Press recently interviewed her about her new 761-page book.
Why did you write this book?
I wanted people to know what Meir was really like, what motivated him. I wanted them to understand that he never acted just for the sake of gaining publicity. Publicity was a tool he used to get his ideas across to the public.
Before he began to lead dramatic protests [in the early 1970’s] against the Soviet Union [as head of the JDL], the general public was unaware of the oppression of Soviet Jews. By devising attention-getting demonstrations, he was able to bring their plight to the attention of all Americans, not just Jews. JDL protests were reported on page one of the large daily newspapers and were the focus of TV news programs.
Did you know what you were getting into when you married your husband?
I knew that he had leadership qualities and that he did not follow the herd. In my book I wrote about an episode before we were married that showed this.
We were members of Bnei Akiva, the Zionist youth group, whose aim was for all members to go to Israel right after high school and work in agriculture on a kibbutz. A group of yeshiva boys had been expelled from Bnei Akiva because they wanted to continue studying in yeshiva after high school.
Meir thought they should be reinstated. And so, as director (in 1955) of the New York office of Bnei Akiva and coordinator of the branches in the city, he tried to get the national convention of Bnei Akiva to pass a resolution reinstating the yeshiva boys. He did not succeed, and as a result, he was no longer the New York City director.
Many readers of your book may be surprised to learn that in his early years, your husband was instrumental in returning many Jews to religious observance. Can you elaborate?
Meir had a special gift for relating to people and inspiring them to belief in G-d and His Torah. They could tell that he was completely sincere. Every word he said came from his heart. For example, when he was the rabbi of the Howard Beach Jewish Center, several boys began to go to yeshiva because of him.
When he was a member of the Knesset and very well known, his book Why Be Jewish was reprinted and carried in many bookstores. Many people who had no connection with Jewishness have told me that they found Why Be Jewish "by chance" in a bookstore and it changed their lives.
Your husband’s activities often landed him in trouble with American and Israeli authorities. Did you ever hear him express despair or a desire to give up?
He never despaired. He believed that what he was doing and saying and writing contributed to the ultimate goal of the Jewish people living in their land according to the Torah. Even if he would not see the results of his efforts, he knew the dictum, "It is not for you to complete the work, but you may not refrain from trying to."
Was it difficult for you over the years to see your husband constantly attacked in the media?
Of course it was difficult, but he always said that if he weren’t succeeding in bringing his ideas to the public, the leftist media wouldn’t bother attacking him. Leftists realized that what he was trying to teach people was exactly the opposite of their ideology. The leftist media thought that by delegitimizing him they’d succeed in shutting him up, but he continued to do everything he could to spread his ideas.
Some people partially agreed with your husband but thought he went too far or that his rhetoric was too inflammatory. What’s your response?
An elderly lady who used to come to the door for charity once said to me, "Tell him to be quiet. He shouldn’t say everything out loud."
But Meir always said that people who don’t tell the whole truth would never be able to influence anyone to follow their ideas. Meir refused to let "popularity ratings" change what he believed had to be said. I think that people respected him for his honesty and his sincerity.
What was Rabbi Kahane like as a husband and father?
Meir and I shared a special rapport. I understood the way of life he had chosen and he understood my needs. He knew that his frequent trips to the U.S. were difficult for me and encouraged me to maintain outside interests. He was especially supportive of my work as a librarian. When he was at home, and especially on Shabbat, a warm glow pervaded our home.
In those days long distance phone calls were very expensive, so when he was away in the United States he wrote letters instead. He wrote very often, sometimes even postcards from an airplane.
They show more clearly than any words of mine the kind of father he was. He loved the children very much and was deeply concerned with teaching them Jewish values.
In my book, I quote in full a letter from Meir to the children in which he expressed his sorrow at being away from them and not giving them more of his time. He ends that letter with his sincere conviction that by devoting himself to working for the Jewish people, he is being a good father. He taught them by example, not merely words.
In another letter he quoted the words of the Vilna Gaon to his family when he left them to go to Eretz Yisrael, "It is common for men to leave their wives in order to travel and wander destitute for years to make money, but I am traveling to perform a mitzvah [ahavat yisrael]."
How do you think Israeli history would have unfolded had your husband not been killed and what do you think your husband would say if he saw Israel today?
I can’t possibly answer this.
When will volume two of the biography come out?
My immediate project is to publish a Hebrew translation of the current volume, because I think Israelis need to know more about Meir and his ideas, not just what the leftist media tells them.
"Man proposes and G-d disposes," but I estimate that volume two will take about four years to finish.
The Jewish Press
He was a solitary, heroic, and tragic figure all wrapped up in one unassuming man with a towering conscience. He was a man who could not be still or rest if Jews anywhere in the world were not being afforded the same opportunities available to those of us living in freedom. As a result, there was very little time for him to sit back or relax.
I spent some of the just-elapsed chag engrossed in a new book that I received just before yom tov. The book was years in the making and was written by Rabbi Meir Kahane’s widow, Libby, who resides in Jerusalem. What essentially emerges from this rather beefy first volume, which covers Meir Kahane’s life from his birth (in 1932) through 1975, is that all the while as Rabbi Kahane led struggles to free Soviet Jews and stand up to the most powerful people in the world to defend Israel, there was a strong and heretofore silent personality behind the scenes that probably provided him with much of the strength and encouragement needed to carry on.
With the publication of this book, Libby Kahane is silent no more. I first received an e-mail from Mrs. Kahane a few years ago asking if I could provide her with some of the articles I had written about Meir Kahane during the 1970s and 1980s when he was evolving as an important and potent force in Jewish life. Because Kahane was so principled and determined, he was also persecuted and prosecuted by the authorities in the United States and Israel through those two decades. Rabbi Kahane was murdered in New York in 1990 by El Sayyid Nosair, an Arab terrorist who was later identified as being involved in the planning of the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.
After Rabbi Kahane’s death, a number of followers created organizations intended to emulate the rabbi’s Jewish Defense League, but none could replicate his genuineness or fortitude, and they became mostly not-so-glorified support groups for those mourning the loss of their leader. One such organization was called Kahane Chai. This group, incorporated both in the U.S. and in Israel, was supposed to be founded and directed by Rabbi Kahane’s eldest son, Binyomin Zev. The junior rabbi, known as Binyomin, was tragically murdered along with his wife, Talia, by Arab terrorists who shot up their car in the West Bank as they returned from a Shabbat in Jerusalem spent at the home of Libby Kahane. Five of their six children were in the family van at the time of the shooting but, thankfully, were not injured.
Coincidentally, I maintained an office in the late 1990s in the same office building as Kahane Chai on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. I was never a member of JDL or any of their offshoot organizations. In 1997, the Kahane Chai organization was branded by the United States government as a terrorist organization, though it accomplished seriously little. During that time, someone associated with Kahane Chai had appropriated some of my possessions from my office to their office. Those things included lists of people who were clients of companies, or donors to organizations, that I was consulting for. Shortly after 9/11, I received a visit from two FBI agents inquiring about my association with Kahane Chai and was asked to explain why some of my things were in their offices. Clearly the items had been stolen. The agents were concerned that I might have been supporting them, thereby aiding and abetting terror—quite a serious crime. Over a very short period that followed, which I presume involved some investigations, the government became convinced that I was not a supporter of whatever the organization was doing or that I was not the terrorist type.
My association with Rabbi Kahane over all those years was strictly that he was a subject for newspaper articles as well as a series of interviews we did on New York radio stations WFMU, WNYM, and WMCA.
Each of those radio stations (two of which still feature Jewish programs more than 30 years later) are stories unto themselves. For now, suffice it to say that in 1979 Meir Kahane was in the WFMU studio with me for an interview. The subject turned toward the planned march of Nazis in Skokie, Illinois that was scheduled to take place a few weeks later. There was great protest over the march, but, intriguingly, there was the argument that no matter how repugnant and offensive such a march would be, Nazis were as entitled as anyone else to freely express themselves. Needless to say, the greatest proponents of that right came from within the Jewish community.
That morning, Rabbi Kahane said unequivocally into our studio microphones, “Nazis who march in Skokie have to be killed.” As soon as that statement was uttered, I was ordered by station management to cut the interview and stop immediately, or else there would be consequences that would jeopardize the future of the entire program. Ultimately, I negotiated an agreement with the station that would allow Kahane to be on in the future, but only if the interview was recorded in advance of the broadcast. It was one of my first introductions to extreme hypocrisy. I was puzzled why so many would fight for the Nazis to march in America (a march that would call for the death of Jews and others) while Kahane had to be shut down and silenced.
Anyway, that anecdote is not in Libby Kahane’s new book because I don’t believe I ever recounted that experience to her and, in any event, it is out of the purview of the current volume’s timeline.
The new book, Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought (Volume One: 1932–1975), runs to over 700 pages and provides the reader with small yet fascinating insights and details into the thought processes of Meir Kahane. Unfortunately, because of the fashion in which our national sound-bite-dominated media works, the only portrayal of Meir Kahane and the old JDL that most people have encountered is that of a group of Jewish terrorists—a parallel to the PLO or to the modern-day Hamas, and considered to be potentially as violent as those groups. Painting these mental images helps the media do its job, but by just scratching a half-inch beneath the surface, one will find this to be a total misrepresentation of reality.
Reading the new book takes you through page after page of self-sacrifice and, more often than not, frustration, as Rabbi Kahane first tries to protect Jews in changing neighborhoods of New York and then becomes involved in what would ultimately become the struggle to free Soviet Jews from the oppressiveness that accompanied Communism. There is the detailed recounting of Kahane’s frustration in trying to raise needed funds, to get his books published—and the fact that when he finally succeeded, they sold poorly—and, ultimately, his attempts to win election to the Knesset in Israel. He finally succeeded in attaining a Knesset seat in 1984, but the Israeli government barred him from running again in 1988, and in 1994 his political party, (Kach) was outlawed. Though Kahane won only one seat in 1984, political prognosticators believed that had he been allowed to run in 1988, his party would have won 12 seats and would have become the third-most-powerful in the country.
Throughout the book, while the frustration at seemingly every turn is palpable, so is the deep and abiding faith in G-d and the fact that if Meir Kahane would not have gotten involved to the extent that he did in the things that he got involved in, then no one else would have.
Two items that stand out in my mind are how he spoke with his then very young children by phone after being arrested and held in an Israeli prison. He explained to his oldest son, Binyomin, that he didn’t think that any kids in the youngster’s class would be able to say that their Abba was in jail because he was trying to free Soviet Jews who were being religiously persecuted, two of whom were sentenced to death by the Kremlin. He was certainly right about that.
A portion of the book is devoted to the rabbi’s effort to interfere with then-Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s meeting with then-President Richard Nixon. Kahane was determined to do all he could to make sure that the Nixon-Brezhnev meeting would not take place. He felt that if the meeting was a success and Brezhnev received the trade agreements his country needed with the U.S. without those pacts being tied to opening the Iron Curtain and letting Jews out, then there would not be another opportunity to make progress in this direction for many years to come.
Additionally, there was little pressure on the U.S. from Israel—and then-Prime Minister Golda Meir—because Israel felt that it needed American support more than it needed Russian Jews. Kahane advocated drastic action from his supporters in the U.S. and was hampered by his inability to legally win back his passport, which had been confiscated by the authorities in Israel. At that time, the only way Kahane could communicate with his organization in New York was by sending letters. The Israeli Secret Service, of course, intercepted the letters. In them he called for some very drastic actions, like kidnapping or shooting a Soviet diplomat. Of course, no rational person would support this course of action and there is a school of thought that believes that Kahane knew his mail was being read and that just the reading of these threats—without anyone actualizing them—was enough to stop the Nixon-Brezhnev meetings.
The book is rich with anecdotes from Rabbi Kahane’s notes, speeches, and articles that appeared in the Jewish Press over many years. In addition to a few stints in prison in Israel, he also spent almost a full year in prison in the U.S. for crimes associated with protests that he organized and in which he participated in New York and Washington, DC. Even if you do not read the book in its entirety, it’s an important book to have in your library or even just to read a few chapters from time to time.
In one of the letters written to his children from a Jerusalem prison in 1972, he stated, “Thirty years ago (during the Holocaust) no one did what had to be done for Jews, and if someone had, he would have been condemned. Today, when Soviet Jews are faced with a catastrophe and the Israeli government knows of it and sells them out for Nixon’s favors, we cannot be quiet. It is the tragedy of the State of Israel that is so un-Jewish that—at Washington’s pressure—it arrests a Jew for doing what it should have done.
"In any case, do not worry. All important things are achieved through yisurim (suffering) and I always hope I will do and not only say what should be done. I will be home soon, with G-d’s help, and until then, remember what is important and what is not."
5 Towns Jewish Times
Libby Kahane: The Silent Heroine
Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought is the title of a remarkable volume I have been reading avidly for the past 10 days. Reading this book is virtually reliving two decades of my life and the intimate history of the Jewish world. It is the first volume of the brilliant, dynamic and tragically demonized Rabbi Kahane’s biography, from his birth in 1932 to the crest of his activism in 1975. Written by Libby Kahane, his widow and faithful biographer, the work is a meticulously documented, masterful yet lively account of the martyred hero’s life and work.
As you read, you get to grasp the enormity of his dedication and the depth of his devotion, and can sense the flame of passion that motivated this phenomenal Jewish figure of our recent history. Through his wife’s painstaking detail, you learn every feature of her protagonist – what he thought and did, when, how, and primarily why.
But nowhere in the book do you learn who Libby Kahane is. Not once does she share the limelight, as if refusing to emerge from the background she created for herself. Even when questioned about herself, her answers are modestly sparse.
Born in New York Libby Blum grew up on the East Side, where she attended the Beth Jacob Elementary School, Hunter High School in mid-Manhattan and Yeshiva University’s Central High School in Brooklyn. As for higher education, Libby received her B.A. from Brooklyn College, simultaneous with her degree from the Teachers Institute at Stern College for Women.
“My M.A. in Library Science is from Queens College,” Libby adds humbly. As a matter of fact, Rebbetzin Libby Kahane, devoted wife and, by then, mother of four small children, worked for many years as reference librarian at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – a position of responsibility and prestige.
Libby Blum met Meir Kahane at a Bnei Akiva meeting in 1954. “After several months, Meir asked me out,” Libby confesses. “I have always felt that Meir and I were fated to marry.” Two years later they were married, and Libby entered the role of silent support to a visionary dynamo for the welfare of the Jewish people.
First, as founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), Meir Kahane managed to change the centuries-old image of the Jew from “timid and cowardly” to one who “proudly fights back.” Next, Meir Kahane focused his efforts on the plight of Soviet Jewry, and the issue achieved international exposure. It was then that the phrases Meir coined – “Never Again!” and “Every Jew a 22!” - entered the language of young Jews on both sides of the Atlantic.
“In 1970, when Meir began his dramatic demonstrations on behalf of Soviet Jewry to bring their plight before the general public, the Soviet Communist regime was firmly entrenched. Dissension was impossible. Secret police were everywhere. Who would have imagined then… that this regime would ever fall? And yet it did! [It] was nothing short of a miracle,” says Libby Kahane. “When we look at the problems that Israel has today vis-à-vis the Arabs, we must not give up hope… Each individual must be aware that his efforts make a difference, and he must continue with those efforts. This book is an expression of my personal effort to bring Meir’s ideas to the public.
“Writing this book gave me a strong sense of accomplishment. It conveys Meir’s ideas; it does not only describe his activities. People who have read it tell me that what Meir said then – which I wrote about in great detail – is applicable today. It is important for others, especially Israelis, to read the book - especially what he wrote about ceding Jewish land to the Arabs.”
In 1971 Meir and Libby Kahane fulfilled their dream of aliyah. In Israel Meir founded the political party Kach, whose platform called for the annexation of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. As Kach leader, he won a seat in the Knesset in 1984.
The Arab assassin’s bullet that snuffed out Rabbi Kahane’s life in 1990 has not succeeded in stemming the impact of his vision. This was graphically evident in the faces of the crowd at the event launching the book, held recently at Netanya’s Young Israel synagogue. It was organized by Rebbetzin Rachel Morowitz, girlhood friend of Libby Blum Kahane. Libby’s lecture was received with the kind of enthusiastic reverence reserved for leaders whose message lives on.
“Meir wrote that aside from security concerns, giving up lands is a chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name) because it is a symptom of weakness in the face of international pressure. When the non-Jew sees that the Jew is weak, he perceives the Jewish G-d as being weak, and that is a chilul Hashem,” Libby concluded to thunderous applause.
“I wish he were alive today,” sighed a member of the audience.
“His words are alive,” countered another. “As long as Libby Kahane’s book is read, Meir Kahane’s teaching will live on.”
-Prof. Livia Bitton Jackson
The Jewish Press
Meir Kahane was a controversial figure who, until his assassination in 1990, wore quite a few hats -- Zionist, rabbi, politician, warrior, and writer. His militant stance has clouded the public perception of an intense but thoughtful individual, whose principles based on love of Torah, Jewish identity, and Israel guided his life. This book, a literal labor of love by his widow, covers his early years, from a Brooklyn boyhood to his release from American jail, and captures the memory of a personage larger than life.
An abundance of letters, articles, and literature, along with many footnotes, chronicles Kahane’s Orthodox upbringing and involvement in the Betar youth group. He founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in the late 1960s, when Jewishness was an embarrassment in an assimilated world. The idea of organized Jewish activism discomfited many, as did his views on Arabs, for which he was labeled a racist and terrorist. Mrs. Kahane points out how the liberal media vilified her husband, often with help from certain Jewish leaders. Her husband, in fact, deplored reckless vigilantism and even tried to purge the JDL of this element. Yet he made no apologies for his causes, many of which remain relevant today. The book also traces his involvement in Israeli politics following his family’s aliyah, his efforts to preserve the country’s Jewish character, and his opposition to appeasement. Anyone who might feel intimidated by this book’s length will find that it reads quite swiftly. In fact, one can get lost in all the details and walk away inspired by this dynamic individual and his impact on contemporary Jewry. This is a book that belongs in every adult Jewish library, and volume two is eagerly awaited.