IN MEMORY OF A GIANT
by Sholom Pollack
RABBI MEIR DAVID KAHANE ZT"L HY”D 18 Cheshvan
I had the privilege of knowing this towering giant, both in the US and in Israel. I would say that he is the main source for my identity as a Jew today as well as choosing to live in Israel. He opened my eyes to some of the most important concepts of Judaism, of being a Jew and a person. I know that these are very big words, but they are true.
I have had many teachers and read many words about Judaism but - he was the man.
When I was growing up in Brooklyn back in the 60's I attended yeshivot. We learned how to dress and how not to dress. We learned about Shabbos and eating kosher. We learned lots of Torah but I never heard about the centrality of Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel in the life and essence of a Jew.
I never heard how Israel was a miraculous gift from Hashem to his people - that it was the fruition of prophecy.I never learned that it was something to get excited about and be proud of. All I knew was that it was osur to attend the treif Israel solidarity parade - there were girls there. Did they have such parades in Poland? No. then how dare Jews deviate from tradition? The idea was to keep the golus in our hearts and thank God that we are living in the most comfortable of galus - America. What more could a Jew ever dream of?
Soviet Jewry? the concept of an Am Yisroel was barely even an academic, theoretical term where I studied. Demonstrations for our millions of brothers in the vast Soviet prison? That wasn't the Jewish way. An authentic Jewish way was never suggested. There were girls there, and besides, it will only anger the goyim.
That was the eleventh commandment - never upset the goyim and threaten our place in the golden golus.
We learned about Avraham Avinu and how he was ready to fight the world power of his day to rescue his nephew. We learned how Moshe Rabbenu killed the Egyptian who dared attack a Jew.
We learned how Yakov challenged the bullies at the well as did Moshe. They all rocked the boat! Were they real Jews or just troublemakers? We never discussed it.
As the "complexion" of Jewish neighborhoods "changed", those who could flee did so quickly. Those who could not were left to the humiliations and attacks by" angry young urban youth." Their lives of the Jews left behind were hell. It was no longer the 'goldene golus' for them. Who helped them?
My grandfather alav hashalom, was almost killed one Friday night when some "urban youths" were angry that he had no money to give them. Shabbat was not a day of rest for the urban youth.
In the hospital, as I looked upon his very swelled head where they repeatedly kicked him, I mused, "Zeidy, you fled the goyim in Poland. And now this, in the 'goldene golus’"?
The Jewish establishment, religious and secular, did not want to rock the boat - as usual. They were all very frum about observing the important eleventh commandment.
Had it not been for the teaching, and more, the example of Rav Kahane, I too would have been a strict eleventh commandment hasid.
He taught me that something was very not kosher. I partook in a JDL patrol in Williamsburg. We were sent to confront. if necessary, Puerto Rican toughs who threatened to take over a Jewish home. That night they learned that there are other kinds of Jews; Jews who were there to challenge them - a strange phenomenon. They seemed very confused. I realized that "Im ein lee, mee lee?” If I am not for myself who will be for me? Who taught Jews that it is the worst chilul Hashem when a goy humiliates a Jew? Where else could I have learned this most basic concept? Not in my yeshiva for sure.
Years later, when I lived in Israel, I took a cab and the driver had a Russian accent. I asked him if he heard of Rav Kahane in Russia?
"Of course!" he said
"And what did you hear?”
"We were told that he was public enemy number one of the Soviet Union, and therefore we all knew that he was a tzadik!”
"Then I sent him a letter.”
"I explained that I want to leave Russia but I need some money. Rabbi Kahane sent me money!”
This I heard from a chance encounter with a taxi driver. I assume that his story is not unique. Oy, has there ever been a ohev Yisroel like our great Rabbi?
Rabbi Kahane explained that he was motivated to do battle for Soviet Jews because we had to do tshuva for the criminal negligence of American Jewry during the Holocaust. The establishment then, would not rock the boat. They would not break the law and be arrested for their brothers in Europe. Ten years later that same establishment were ready to do just that for the Civil rights movement. Some were even moser nefesh and were killed for the non-Jewish cause. But not for European Jewry ten years earlier.
When he moved to Israel he was greeted with beatings by the secret police, imprisoned and demonized by the establishment. They warned him that “This is not America. None of your rabble-rousing." He did not listen. He never listened. Establishments don't like boat rockers. That is the twelfth commandment. "Thou shalt not rock the boat."
He warned us. He pleaded with us. He was beaten for us. He went to jail for us, to remove the seething, growing cancer from within before it destroys our Jewish country and us all. He was treated as a lunatic at best by the establishment, secular and "religious". They clung to their comfortable illusions.
Many years, and rivers of blood later, we know who was sane and who is still not. Who is still clinging to dangerous illusions and who was always right. Clear Torah sources that no one challenged, common sense, the very survival instinct. Nothing could move the clinging establishment. They discovered that they could not buy the trouble making Rabbi or scare him, so they banned him and ultimately destroyed him as they did his holy son and daughter in law may Hashem avenge their blood.
They destroyed his body but his spirit is with us and the seed grows.
Yirmiyahu haNavi shared a very similar fate as Rav Kahane. Both were propelled by a power that they could not subdue. They had to tell Am Yisroel the truth - no matter the cost. They both paid the price and I am certain that they would both do it again.
I constantly poll people I meet throughout the country. I am a tour guide so I get around and meet all kinds of Israelis.
I sidle up to a person and whisper, "Kahane Tzodek" nachon? ( Wasn't Kahana right?) Usually, they give a knowing, secret look and in a hushed tone say, betach! Tamid! Of course, always! He has planted for so many, the seed of Jewish pride, common sense and the knowledge that they were not crazy when they did not accept that the king has clothes. With time, the king is looking more and more naked to more and more people - thanks to the one who stood alone and would not be silenced.
It is a great honor for me to be here tonight and be counted with the few who knew then that there was indeed a prophet amongst us.
May he be a melitz yosher for the people he so so loved and may Am Yisroel be zoche to walk in his path and in the path of Binyamin Zev and Tali Kahane, zecher tzadik and kadosh levracha
May their lives be a pillar of light for us all.
by Sholom Pollack
Part 2 of the above video: https://youtu.be/H0laHYwjIHA
(to hear the remaining videos of this speech to The National Press Club 1988)