Twenty years ago today, Meir Kahane was wrapping up a speech about his proposed Zionist Emergency Rescue Organization at the Marriott East Side Hotel in Manhattan when El Sayid Nosair shot him in the neck, dispatching him to a slow, painful and traumatic death.
Nosair, of course, was arrested after a shootout with a postal police officer and later convicted of shooting the cop but not Kahane, after defense lawyer William Kunstler’s successful defense of "he didn’t do it, but so what if he did?" The feds would later tie Nosair to an extensive internation terrorist ring.
Full disclsosure: I had a personal connection to Kahane. My father was (and remains) a fan, and Kahane gave us a tour of Jerusalem during my first trip to Israel in 1974. Later, my brother married into his family. For a while, I drank the Kahane Kool-Aid. Journalism saved me. As I saw him in public and private settings, I it was clear that he had dual personalities, one that could be very engaging and another that fed off the negative energy of a crowd and contributed to it by giving angry people the red meat they craved. Even though I disagreed not only with the hate he displayed toward all Arabs (Kahane would argue he respected them more than the liberals) but the distraction from realistic ideas he created, it was still hard not to like him personally.
Rabbi Isaac Trainin, a highly respected federation leader, once told me that he had tried to get Kahane, his nephew, a job at a Jewish organization, and believed that if his considerable energy and talents could have been tapped in a different way he might have made a significant contribution to mainstream Jewish life. I’m not so sure he could have fit into that kind of mold, and probably would have bristled at some desk job at an AJ-something-or-other the same way he bristled at wearing neckties.
At Kahane’s funeral, several major Jewish organization leaders quietly attended the eulogy. Then they left through a back door. "He may have been a nut, but he was our nut," someone later told me. It was because of him that my father found a life he enjoys as a religious Jew and Zionist, and his children and grandchildren followed in those footsteps. In our family, he was our nut, too.