And yet, what can one do? Except perhaps to try to express a little something, insufficient as it is, regarding this historically great Jew. This is not a full treatment of this great man, nor a comprehensive analysis of his many accomplishments, contributions, and sacrifices. These are simply a few reflections that I wish to share.
I see Rabbi Kahane as a throwback to the times of the Judges and Prophets. He epitomized the very essence of mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice at the cost of one’s life, the acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven, and the willingness to speak the painful truth, no matter the cost. Throughout his adult life, he willingly endured this cost, regardless of consequence. Imprisonment, harassment, confrontation, and eventually his own murder. Rabbi Kahane was a multifaceted leader: a gadol in Torah and a warrior; a fiery kohen fit to lead Am Yisroel in war; a master of words, a writer of immense talent, and an orator whose words would generate a fire within you, raising goosebumps on your arms.
“The lesson of clear. In the end, for the Jews, there is no ally except for the Jews.” (R. Meir Kahane, “Never Again”, page 200)
Rabbi Kahane loved Jews with an authentic love. A tough love which compelled him to speak of unpleasant truths which many Jews were unwilling to hear. He understood that at the end of the day, the only one other than Hakadosh Baruch Hu that Jews could count on were other Jews. He had an allergic reaction to the desecration of G-d’s name, and to Jewish pain and suffering. Whenever and wherever Jews were in danger, Rabbi Kahane was there to fight for them. It didn’t matter who the enemy was or what his perceived strength was. Nothing would deter him. Not the Godless Soviets who tried to eclipse the soul of Soviet Jewry, not the Neo-nazis and Black Panthers in America, or the Arabs in Israel. Rabbi Kahane faced them all, with his patented chutzpah, wit, and lack of self-concern. And in Eretz Yisroel, the Arabs were truly terrified of him. Like an enraged Shimshon Hagibor, the Arabs feared him, because much like Samson, his strength was an anomaly that they could not understand. It derived from the very personality of this magnificent tzadik. He had their number.
When Rabbi Kahane first formed the JDL in the late 1960’s to physically defend Jewish neighborhoods from anti-semitism, the Jewish Establishment condemned his use of violence, even as they chose to ignore the shocking rise of Jew-hatred, particularly within the black community. This was of course during the era of changing neighborhoods, and those Jews who were left behind in hostile regions, were always the poor and the elderly. Rabbi Kahane became their protector.
As the JDL took on the broader issue to fight for the rights of Soviet Jews behind the Iron Curtain, the Jewish Federations only increased their vitriol and defamation. They viewed him as an embarrassment and and labeled him a violent extremist, whose actions were beyond the Jewish pale. Rabbi Kahane couldn’t have cared less. He was a master of media relations and he understood that violence and confrontation were the only things that the media was interested in. Violence made headlines. And violence forced respectable Jewish organizations, the Bnai Brith, the ADL, and others to adopt the cause of Soviet Jewry and a host of other Jewish issues they had chosen to ignore. In the era of the 1970’s, when American Jewry saw their disaffected youth rally for the cause of anything and everything but Judaism, Rabbi Kahane wanted to harness the energy of young Jews. His lectures on campus were a powerful tool for him to reach many alienated Jews who never had someone explain their heritage. Certainly not a Rabbi. His impact on the many young Jews who chose to explore and return to their Judaism, is another legacy of Rabbi Kahane’s. There are untold numbers of Ba’alei Teshuva who cite Rabbi Kahane as a major influence on their return to Torah.