Rabbi Meir and Libby Kahane at wedding
Rabbi Meir and Libby Kahane at wedding Israel news photo

Three separate events last week, including one at Ground Zero, remembered the legacy of former Knesset Member Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was gunned down at a hotel in New York 20 years ago by Egyptian terrorist El Sayyid Nosair.

A rally at Ground Zero followed a memorial service in Rabbi Kahane’s memory, where Rabbi Herbert Bomzer of the Young Israel of Ocean Parkway recalled his friendship with Rabbi Kahane that spanned over 50 years.

"I first met Rabbi Kahane in 1955 and I so enjoyed the Shabbat meals that he spent with our family,” he said. “He was a man that was truly immersed in Torah all the time. He had tremendous gusto and courage and possessed no fear of any person. When I was the principal of BTA, I invited him to address our students and he told them not to become an ignorant activist, but rather to become a scholar-warrior, someone who learns Torah and raises his fists for the Jewish people.”

At Ground Zero, Meir Weinstein, director of the Jewish Defense League in Canada, called Rabbi Kahane the first victim of Al-Qaeda terrorism on U.S. soil.

He decried the proposed building of a mosque at Ground Zero saying, “The ideology that will be taught in this mosque is the same ideology that is responsible for the murder of Rabbi Kahane.” Weinstein said that the mosque would represent Islamic dominance as does the mosque that stands on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. "It is yet another attempt to make all non-Muslims subservient to them,” he added.

Weinstein declared that "Rabbi Kahane's blood is crying out to us. Today the Arabs stand poised to annihilate us and we are obligated to keep Rabbi Kahane's message alive by preserving Israel as a Jewish state. If the Arabs won't acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, then they will have to go", he said, as he called for the re-location of the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. "What we need now, more than ever, are those who have a Jewish head attached to a Jewish fist, as Rabbi Kahane always said," he said.

One rally participant, John Davis, added, “Many people still deny that there is a demographic threat even though there are many Arab members of Knesset. Just as Rabbi Kahane said, through the principle of a western democracy, the Arabs will quietly, democratically vote us out of existence, and if this is not happening today, it's going to happen very soon."

The West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan was the site of another commemoration of the life and legacy of Rabbi Kahane, where an overflow crowd of hundreds heard speeches by New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, renowned criminal defense attorney, Barry Slotnick, long-time radio talk show host Barry Farber and Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans For a Safe Israel.

Shannon Taylor, who chaired the event along with Cecelia Margules, said that although Rabbi Kahane was condemned by the Jewish establishment while was alive, "Everyone in Israel knows that Kahane was right.”  Cecelia Margules, whose musical works were performed later in the program, introduced world famous cellist, Michael Fitzpatrick, who permormed his  "invocation for World Peace".

Freedman, who recently returned from a mission to Israel, said widespread illegal Arab building throughout Israel – from the Negev to the Galilee and including Judea and Samaria –  "confirms the prophecies of Rav Kahane."

Hikind, a former member of the JDL, described his efforts to support the people of Gush Katif before the 2005 expulsion and reminded people that his mother, who was with him in the audience, was a Holocaust survivor. He recounted experiences he had with Rabbi Kahane when he was a youngster, and quoted him as saying, “Let us not fear the world. Those who stood by during the Holocaust and did the same when Israel faced destruction in 1948 and 1967 have nothing to tell us. Faith in the G-d of Israel and a powerful Jewish army are the only guarantors of Jewish survival. Far better a Jewish State that survives and is hated by the world than an Auschwitz that brings us its love and sympathy.” 

At the Ocean Avenue Jewish Center commemoration in Brooklyn on Sunday, more than 500 people gathered to pay tribute to Rabbi Kahane, whom Russian-Jewish activist Gennadiy Fabyshenko called “the greatest Jewish leader of our time.”

Among the speakers were Bob Unger of the Conservative Society for Action, Norman Krug, a Russian Jewish activist, Rabbi Herbert Bomzer, Robert Muchnik of the Manhigut Yehudit party and Canada’s JDL director Weinstein.

Rabbi Kahane was described by followers as ”an exceptionally prescient man, possessed of brilliance, integrity and courage” for his role in championing such issues as the freedom of Soviet Jews,  the physical defense of Jews throughout the world, and his program spotlighting the demographic threat that the Arab population in Israel represents.

Born in Brooklyn, New York on August 1, 1932 to Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga HaCohen Kahane and his wife Sonia, Rabbi Kahane's love of Zion began as a youth when he joined both the Betar Zionist youth movement and the B'nei Akiva movement.

He graduated from the Brooklyn Talmudical Academy High School in Brooklyn and earned his B.A. in political science from Brooklyn College and law degrees from the New York Law School and New York University Law School. He received his rabbinical ordination from the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn and gained a reputation for being an erudite Torah scholar, being fully conversant in Talmud and the Bible. He also served as a pulpit rabbi and a teacher in the 1960s.

In 1968, he founded the Jewish Defense League as a response to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in America's inner cities. Under Rabbi Kahane's leadership, JDL members engaged in protests against anti-Semitic teachers in the public school system, provided escorts for elderly Jews and educated Jewish youth in the art of self-defense.

With a membership numbering over 15,000, the JDL organized mass rallies in New York against the Soviet Union's policy of persecuting Zionist activists and curbing Jewish immigration to Israel, and played the lead role in the "Free Soviet Jewry" movement through campaigning for the release of Russian refuseniks and their emigration to Israel. JDL also protested against the oppression of Jewish population in Muslim countries, battled Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the United States and resisted Christian missionaries' activity to convert Jews.

In 1980, Rabbi Kahane formed the Kach political party in Israel and in 1984 was elected as a Member of the Knesset. He refused to take the standard oath of office upon his election and insisted on adding a verse from the Book of Psalms (Tehillim) to indicate that when secular laws and Torah conflict, Torah law should have supremacy over the laws of the Knesset.

Rabbi Kahane's legislative proposals focused on transferring the hostile Arab population out of Israel, revoking the Israeli citizenship of non-Jews and banning Jewish-Gentile marriages and sexual relations, based on the Code of Jewish Law compiled by Maimonides.

As Rabbi Kahane's message continued to strongly resonate with the Israeli population, the Central Elections Committee banned him from being a candidate on the grounds that Kach was a racist party.

The Israeli High Court determined that the committee was not authorized to ban Rabbi Kahane's candidacy but suggested that the Knesset should pass a law that would authorize the exclusion of racist parties from future elections, and the Anti-Racist Law of 1988 was later passed.

Despite the boycott, Rabbi Kahane's popularity grew. Polls showed that Kach would have likely received three to four seats in the 1988 elections. After the election committee banned Rabbi Kahane a second time, he appealed to the High Court, which sided with the committee, disqualifying Kach.

Rabbi Kahane is the author of such books as "Time to Go Home", "Our Challenge", "Never Again", "Why Be Jewish?", "The Story of the Jewish Defense League", "Listen World, Listen Jew", "They Must Go",  "Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews", "Israel: Revolution or Referendum". His magnum opus is the two volume set on Torah concepts entitled, "Ohr HaRayon - The Jewish Idea.” 

"Rabbi Kahane's death does not mean that activists should only come together once a year to remember him", said Norman Krug, a Russian-Jewish activist. "When I was a 15 year-old boy in the former Soviet Union, I read in the Pravda newspaper that there was a group of ‘fascist hooligans’ called the JDL who were fighting for our freedom, and I could not have been prouder. When I arrived in the United States I pledged my heart to Rabbi Kahane and joined him in his crucial work. I urge everyone here today to remember Rabbi Kahane's legacy by becoming involved in Jewish causes.”