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September 3, 2015 / 19 Elul, 5775
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A Jewish Hero Grows Up in Brooklyn


Rabbi Meir Kahane

Let’s continue our Book Week tribute to Rabbi Meir Kahane with a look at a truly wonderful biography published last year, Rabbi Meir Kahane – His Life and Thought written by his wife, Libby Kahane, who lives down the street from me in Jerusalem. The biography is Volume One of the never-dull story, covering the years 1932-1975. Presently, the Rebbetzin is working on Volume Two. I don’t want to give away my age, but for me the book is a combination of nostalgia and a saga of modern Jewish history, covering the Rabbi’s early years, his development into a passionate Jewish leader, willing to risk everything in his towering love for the Jewish People, the struggle for Soviet Jewry, the birth of the Jewish Defense League, the Kahane family’s aliyah, and Reb Meir’s first political battles in Israel. All in all, it’s an inspiring story of a true Jewish hero that every Jew should read.

Today, we will look at a passage about the Rabbi’s early days at The Jewish Press, which continued to publish his writings for thirty years until he was murdered by an Arab terrorist during a visit to New York.

Tomorrow, God willing, we will post a surprising section describing his youth that had a dramatic impact on me, teaching me that everyone has the potential and ability to build himself into a person of greatness, in whatever field of endeavor that he or she chooses to pursue.

From Chapter 8, Newspapers (1961-1963):

One year, Meir took the children to the annual “Salute to Israel” parade in Manhattan. The kids came home waving small Israeli flags Meir had bought them. The next morning, our light blue car had the word JEW painted on it in large black letters. After hours of scrubbing, I finally managed to remove all the black paint. I never felt the same about my neighbors again.

Since he had to drive through Flatbush for his editorial job at The Jewish Press, the location of the Mirrer Yeshiva was now more convenient than that of the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. Every morning after his newspaper deliveries, Meir went to study at the Mirrer Yeshiva.

Meir drove a manual-shift Austin, which was handy for stop-and-go newspaper delivery, and I had a secondhand light blue Rambler for shopping and car pools. We lived modestly but comfortably on the income from Meir’s newspaper route, occasional private Hebrew lessons, and The Jewish Press.

Meir’s earliest writing in The Jewish Press reflected his preoccupation with Torah study. His first weekly column was “The Shiur of the Week.” Topics included the permissibility of delivering clothes to a laundry that would wash them on Shabbat, the lighting of Shabbat candles, and the blowing of the shofar on the High Holidays. He wrote “The Shiur of the Week” under the pen name Hamaor Hakatan (the small light), a play on the name Meir, which means giving light.

He began to write another column, “A Small Voice,” under his own name at about the same time. The first few columns had the title “A Still, Small Voice,” a phrase from I Kings 19, in which the prophet Elijah hears the word of God: “… but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, a still small voice.” From 1960 to 1962, “A Small Voice” dealt with topics such as South African Jewry, religious laws in Israel, the Eichmann trial, the Bnei Israel Indian Jews, Christian missionary activity among poverty-stricken Israelis, and freedom of speech for Nazis in the U.S.

In “A Small Voice” of June 10, 1960, Meir attacked critics of David Ben-Gurion:

“No one can deny the tragedy inherent in the picture of a Jewish prime minister publicly contradicting the Bible… [But] among the voices of criticism raised were clearly heard those of the Scandal Mongers. They are the voice of those that are always ready to criticize the government of Israel…. Every sin and every transgression is shouted forth, while the good is always interred in silence….”

Meir then gave details of recent Israeli legislation that promoted adherence to Jewish law. For example, “The husband who defies the rabbinical court and refuses to grant a divorce to his wife will be jailed for contempt of court until he complies.” This legislation freed many women from being agunot, chained to their husbands, a situation all too common among Jews in the United States. “Certainly there is much that is wrong with Israel today…. But there is much that is right with Ben-Gurion and with Israel also, and I would be more impressed with the tears of the Scandal Mongers if they acknowledged this…. ”

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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