RABBI KAHANEShlomoh Sherman
August 10, 2003
In the 1960s, elderly Jewish people were being attacked by colored hoodlums in Brooklyn. As a response, a Chasidic rabbi by the name of Shrage started a group called THE MACCABEES. These were men who patrolled the streets in cars and on foot. If they spotted blacks causing trouble, they would beat the shit out of them and then turn them over to the police.
Many people in New York City were surprised because they had never seen Jews ORGANIZED to fight crimial violence. The MACCABEES gained a lot of support from the religious Jews of Brooklyn as well as from some secular Jews who felt very "ethnic".
One of the people attracted to this group was a young rabbi by the name of Meir Kahane. Rabbi Kahane was very charismatic at the time and began to attract mostly religiously ignorant Jews who were being influenced by the growing consciousness of ethnicism of the time.
After gaining some popularity, Rabbi Kahane began to have a vision of taking the MACCABEE group beyond just protecting the Jews of Brooklyn. He began to see it as a vehicle for other Jewish causes such as the plight of Soviet Jews. Rabbi Shrage had no desire to get involved with all that political stuff and so he would not support Rabbi Kahane's ideas. It was then that Rabbi Kahane split off from the MACCABEES, taking a number of people with him, and formed the Jewish Defense League.
In it's early days, the JDL continued to do the same thing that the MACCABEES were doing, going into the streets to protect Jews from colored street criminals. But soon, the JDL began to attract all kinds of Jews, including profesionals and it also began to recieve monetary donations. As the JDL began to grow in numbers and in media publicity, the MACCABEES waned and disappeared.
The JDL got into "politics", demonstrating and carrying on in the Soviet Jewry cause. Mainstream Jewry did not like the JDL, because it appeared to be radical and reminded people of other ethnic violent groups. Nevertheless a sufficient number of Jews supported it so that it could grow into a well known group.
Later on, Rabbi Kahane became involved with the FBI or CIA, I don't remember which, but he did some undercover work for them.
In the mid 1970s, after the YOM KIPPUR war, the JDL became involved in anti-Arab activities of various kinds. It was at that time that I met him for the first time. He spoke at my synagogue and I had to a chance to have a one on one conversation with him before he spoke. I don't remember the gist of the conversation but I do remember that he came off to me as a pleasant fellow who had the welfare of Jews at heart.
Rabbi Kahane then began a new venture, trying to get all Jews to move to Israel. He wrote several books about it and lectured as well. As you know, he was not successful with that but he himself emmigrated to Israel where he set up an Israeli branch of the JDL. Few native israelis joined it since they saw no need for a small cadre of people to "protect Israelis". But many Russian and American Jews joined.
As the 1970s ended, Rabbi Kahane began to get strident in his views about Arabs. All other projects, Soviet Jews and black street people, etc dropped off his important list and was given to the JDL members in America to take care of. ARABS became Rabbi Kahane's chief concern. Rabbi Kahane decided to become political. He created a political party called KACH and ran for Kennesset membership. He got enough votes to be elected and became an MP.
As he gathered followers in Israel, his personality began to change and he became, not only strident, but angry. The next time I met him in New York, I could not believe the change in his personality. He began to spend a lot of time and passion bad mouthing Jews for not being active enough in the fight against Arabs, especially palestinians. He became persona non gratia to the Jews of the diaspora while attracting some measure of following inside Israel.
A poll was taken sometime in the 1980s and it was determined that in an election, his party would gain several seats in the Kennesset. Thereupon the then Israeli government did something that wewould expect from the Soviets or the Chinese. They declared his KOCH party outlaw abd they were not allowed to participate in any more elections. I can't forgive that government because whether you agree with what he wanted to do or not, they had no right as a democracy to do what they did to him. And the fact thatit was a right wing government that did it to him angered him all the more.
After that, he became impossible to be around. I met him a third time, at a wedding, a little before he was assassinated and I couldn't even look at him. We were sitting at the same table and his face was a mask of pure anger.
Some of the things he said in the late '80s were:
"Jews are worse enemies to me than Arabs."
"If I am assassinated, it will probably be at the hand of a Jew."
"I will still become Prime Minister of Israel and then every non-Jew there will be kicked out of the country."
"When I become PM, all Sabbath violators will be imprisoned."
"Under my government, any Jew who becomes romantically involved with an Arab will be jailed as a first offense and kicked out of the country as a second offense."
"Jews are stupid and are their own worst enemies, worse enemies than even the arabs."
Rabbi Kahane was assassinated by an Arab in the late 1980s. The assassination could have been prevented if his own followers had not been so stupid and provided better security.
Rabbi Kahane was a Jew who became a mental prisoner of his own ideology and became his OWN worst enemy. Had he developed a different approach, he might have become a popular Jewish leader, or not. When I think of him now, I like to think of the young idealist rather than the old ideologue.
Return To The Essay Index Return To The Literary Index Return To The Site Index Page Email Shlomoh