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August 3, 2015 / 18 Av, 5775
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A Jewish Hero Grows Up in Brooklyn


Rabbi Meir Kahane

In a December 1960 column, Meir praised Rabbi Menachem Perr of South Ozone Park, Queens, for banning Saturday bar mitzvahs in his synagogue because so many Jews were desecrating Shabbat to attend them. “My world is divided into two classes – the talkers and the doers,” Meir wrote. “… I have a weakness for the doers. I realize full well the importance of the critic, the role of the muckraker…. The doer, however, is not content with the discovery of wrong. He is bothered by it, he broods over it… His is the greater soul.”

In 1960 Jews in Rockland County, New York, fearful of “standing-out,” tried to have the local zoning board refuse the application of Chasidic Jews to build a community there. Of those who opposed the Chasidic town of New Square, Meir wrote:

“It is the condition of man to be beset by fears and insecurities…. The frail thing that we call man shivers and shakes before every threatening wind that rocks his peaceful equilibrium, yearns for that peaceful and soothing calm.

“It is this yearning that is the father of submissive conformity, this need that gives birth to oppressive uniformity. He who clothes himself in the garb of the community … he who mouths the words of village opinion – is assured that he is an accepted son in the World of Now.

“To be faceless is to be safe; to conform is to be acceptable…. One does not have to be a Chasid or believe in Chasidism or agree with its essentials to recognize that here is a spark of courage in a world devoid of such things. One does not even have to be courageous himself to perceive the act of bravery in this community of little men and women who want to live their lives as they see fit….”

Meir took an equally firm stand concerning women’s apparel. On July 14, 1961, he wrote, “Increasingly, a small group of Beit Yaakov and Chasidic women stands alone in the observance of the concept of tznius (modesty). They refuse to wear shorts or short-sleeved blouses … [and] they increasingly earn the mockery and anger not alone of the irreligious – but of the nominally Orthodox woman, too. The minority is right! Let the women of Israel listen and take pride in this sublime challenge that is theirs alone to fulfill.”

Thanks to The Jewish Press’ growing circulation, Meir was reaching a large readership, and his decisive stance earned him many admirers. Not yet 30, he did not hesitate to address weighty questions of morality and communal responsibility. Upon meeting him, people often said, “I thought you were much older!”

A major issue of the day was government aid to parochial schools. Like many other Orthodox Jews, Meir felt the government should support all schools, not only public schools. However, the powerful American Jewish Congress and other Jewish Establishment groups considered the separation of church and state vital to safeguarding Jewish civil liberties, and ignored the financial difficulties of parents seeking to educate their children in Jewish day schools. In his articles in The Jewish Press, Meir was an outspoken proponent of federal aid to Jewish schools. On May 15, 1961, he was invited to debate the subject at the prestigious West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan with another Jewish Press columnist, Dr. Jacob B. Glenn. The debate was moderated by the synagogue’s rabbi, Rabbi O. Asher Reichel. Shortly after the debate, Meir wrote to Rabbi Reichel:

“I have been informed by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper that you are looking for a youth leader for your congregation. I am at present devoting full time to learning, but rather than be supported by the public funds of a Kollel, I have bought a morning paper route. I find, however, that I must supplement this income. I have a great deal of experience with youth groups of all types and would bring this experience to bear in this position.”

Rabbi Reichel, favorably impressed, hired him to teach the synagogue’s teenagers on Sunday mornings. The synagogue bulletin of October 1961 attests to Meir’s success with the teenagers. “Don’t miss our High School class which meets this Sunday at 10 A.M. with Rabbi Meir Kahane,” it says. “Those who have been attending regularly sing its praises.”

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.

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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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