Meir was one of many young people from all over the United States who came to Martin Hall for its excellent speech training. The institute’s method of relearning speech patterns helped him immensely. The program began with breathing exercises and proceeded through the diligent practice of sounds, words, and phrases. The students were also made aware of the psychological aspects of stuttering. In large letters, Meir wrote in his Martin Hall notebook: “If fear hits, stop. Say it slowly, long pause(s), but SAY IT.”
During that summer at the institute, Meir was the only Orthodox Jew. Most of the students were not Jewish, and many had never met a Jew. Yet Meir did not hesitate to speak of his beliefs with them, as is evident from their messages to him in his speech notebook. At the back of the notebook, together with his menu plan (cornflakes, canned soup, sardines, tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges and apples), are end-of-term greetings such as, “To Kosher Boy: Best of luck to a guy with strong convictions,” and, “To A Very Nice Guy: I hope that you reach your goal in speech and in going to Israel. I am very sure that you will … ”
At the peak of Meir’s career as founder and leader of the Jewish Defense League, a reporter wrote: “At some time in his youth, he apparently forced himself to master a stutter; his tongue still falters occasionally, but the flow of ideas into words is remarkably fluent.”
Intent on mastering his stutter, Meir was on the debating team throughout high school. Rabbi Witty recalled: “Meir was without question – as I look back on our school days together – a highly capable, probably even gifted student. He was especially talented in Jewish studies, no doubt an outcome of being raised in the type of rabbinic home in which he was reared. But what often surprised me was his inordinate knowledge of, and familiarity with, world affairs, current events, and what was transpiring in disciplines and study areas which I had taken always to be the province of adults. Despite his well-known speech impediment, he was amazingly articulate; his command of language and the ideas he offered were impressive…. [He had a] remarkable command of seemingly esoteric information about the Irgun, the Stern Group, and the entire political situation that surrounded the years of pre-state Israel.”
BTA had an important influence on Meir, but Betar, which was his personal choice, was even more important in determining the direction his life would take.
Tomorrow, God willing, we will continue our celebration of Book Week with an excerpt from the scholarly treatise which sets forth Rabbi Kahane’s profound Torah vision: “The Jewish Idea.”