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July 31, 2015 / 15 Av, 5775
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The Key to Greatness


Rabbi Kahane

Most people never achieve their full potential, either, because they don’t really know themselves, and don’t know where their potential lies, or because they have some barrier in their way.

Meir Kahane knew himself. Even when he was a teenager, he knew that he wanted to help the Jewish People as much as he could. He recognized that Jewish identity and the true practice of Torah had been distorted by the exile and by life in foreign non-Jewish lands. Stemming from this, he recognized the great dangers of assimilation and yearned with a towering passion to cry out and warn his beloved brothers and sisters. He knew what he wanted. He understood his potential. But there was a barrier in his way. He stuttered. That’s right – Rabbi Meir Kahane, perhaps the most dynamic Jewish orator of our time, a speaker capable of inflaming hearts and inspiring the masses, a par-excellence TV debater who chopped the glib intellectual banter of opponents into tiny insignificant scraps, he had a bothersome stutter in his youth, which had to be mastered in order to fulfill his dream of reaching out to the Jewish People.

This is how he did it, as revealed in the gripping biography, Rabbi Meir Kahane – His Life and Thought, written by his wife.

He overcame his barrier. Through his example, we can learn to overcome ours.

Rabbi Meir Kahane – His Life and Thought

From Chapter Three

During his high school years, Meir began to stutter, or at least to become conscious of it. A classmate said he did not stutter when they were together in fourth grade; if he did she would have been aware of it, because her own brother stuttered.

When Meir was 20 and attending the Mirrer Yeshiva rabbinical seminary during the day and Brooklyn College at night, he decided to do something about his stuttering. In July 1952 he enrolled in the Martin Hall Institute for Speech Disorders in Bristol, Rhode Island. In a summary written for a therapist at Martin Hall, Meir related:

“When I was 9 years old my parents gave me a book for my birthday, titled, ‘So to Speak: A Practical Training Course for Developing a Beautiful Speaking Voice.” I did not know then why they gave me the book. In grade school I had no trouble. I recited in class and acted in plays. I recall going to the office, speaking to the principal, Rabbi Braverman, about skipping a grade, and to Mr. Hirsch about being the valedictorian. I was not afraid then.

“In high school I had no trouble, as far as I remember, during the first and second terms [the first year] – except that I would rather read [aloud] than speak in classes. I had trouble speaking in Rabbi Feivelson’s class, and I think he expressed surprise, but I had no trouble speaking to kids or teachers informally. Once in class, Farber poked me to say I stuttered in reading … even though I was better in reading than in talking…. The teacher definitely expressed surprise. I also had trouble in French class. (I think I was AFRAID.) I also had trouble in English at Lincoln giving reports.

“I spoke up in class, especially English … recited, etc. I approached Rabbi Zuroff about a Begin meeting. I was definitely much better conversationally than now, and had no trouble speaking to girls. My friend Victor confirms this.”

One of the most difficult things for a stutterer is making phone calls. Meir names the friends he phoned easily and those he was afraid to call. He has a fuzzy memory of being nervous about making calls for his father. He recalled a Betar meeting where he could not talk to two girls. He was afraid to speak up at the Betar convention, but he overcame his fear, and a friend assured him that he had not stuttered. In college, Meir’s fear of stuttering became worse. He wrote:

“I did do some speaking in class … though in History, I was afraid but wasn’t BODILY afraid…. I was afraid to give a report in economic geography, and walked out of the Bible Hebrew class. I was deathly afraid of speech in my last term. In fact, I dropped a previous speech class when the teacher said I stuttered. I had bad trouble asking for transcripts. I showed a paper to the guidance counselor [instead of speaking]. I stammered controllably at interviews. I had trouble answering when attendance was taken. I was afraid to talk up in sociology…. When I was 19, I couldn’t ask for a stapler at Macy’s.”

Some stutterers discover that they cease stuttering when they are distracted from their usual speech patterns. Almost any novel stimulus, such as tapping a finger, swinging the arms, or stamping a foot, can serve as a distraction (until the novelty wears off). Meir’s trick was to blink, as he did on various occasions in later years.

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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One Response to “The Key to Greatness”

  1. It is amazing that Rabbi Meir Kahane stuttered! There is an essay on the internet by Rabbi Mark Glickman called "Reflections of a Stuttering Rabbi". There is even an international organization for Jewish people who stutter called The Jewish Stuttering Association. I recommend the resources of The Stuttering Foundation (www.stutteringhelp.org) because they offer free resources for both children and adults, in addition to books and DVDs. Check out the website of The Israeli Stuttering Association (www.ambi.il.org).

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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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