I woke up this morning thinking about Meir Kahane. The things that overtake us in our sleep are mysterious, are they not?
I saw him deliver a speech in 1984. I was attending Queens College in New York at the time, belatedly finishing a BA. The campus had a very vigorous Jewish Defense League chapter, and it was they who arranged the speech.
That JDL chapter were an interesting bunch. People usually think of Jews as quiet, intellectual people, but they are not all so. It was common in our main cafeteria for a few members to walk in for a harangue. One or two huge bone-crushers would stand by the doors glaring while the brains of the outfit would find center stage and begin. "I look around, I know lots of you are Jews, but how do I know?" he'd start. "I see maybe one yarmulke, and I don't see any tsitsis." They were hard core.
Security was tight at the speech. There were three check points with searches: first at the door to the building; second at a landing after you walked up two flights of stairs; and third in the hall outside the room. This was 1984, and Mr. Kahane was indeed shot a few years later, so the security was a good idea. The speech was amazing, a word that I use sparingly.
The really amazing part was the question and answer period after the speech. He took questions from anybody, with no prescreening. Questions meant to trip him up; lots of complex, multi-part questions; questions that were just plain weird; political questions; religious questions; he took them all with great confidence and supernatural calm.
His answers addressed every aspect of every question. It was wildly impressive. He would listen to a long, disjointed question and address the first point, then the second, then the third, then the fourth, he always seemed to have caught and understood the entire question in all of its parts and formulated good responses to everything.
Meir Kahane is not someone that I think about on a regular basis. I was familiar with his career only to the same extent as any other reasonably well informed person at the time. I went to that speech out of interest, and I was indeed fascinated, but I made no follow up afterward. He has been dead for almost twenty five years. But I woke up this morning thinking about him. It was connected to a dream that I did not remember in which I was trying to remember his name, first getting stuck on Meyer Lansky, which I knew was the wrong answer. I am constantly surprised by the problems that our brains choose to work on overnight, while we sleep.