It was the spring of 1967, and I was living in Chicago. I wasn’t particularly active in synagogue activities and only attended services periodically back then, so in terms of practicing my faith, I was much more a cultural Jew than a deeply spiritual one. For better or for worse, I remain that way today. But I don’t eat ham very often at all, especially after getting one of those clove thingys stuck between two teeth one day, prefer brisket the way my precious Aunt Sally used to make it rather than the smoked version available at Bubba’s BBQ Joint, and with my challenging demeanor, I’d prefer to have questions for the One Big Guy rather than try to figure out what the Book of Revelation is all about.
Omniscient, I am clearly not, but I do have a straightforward comment about the Holocaust.
I attended a Catholic service many years ago in which the priest declared his flock to be “God’s New Chosen People,” (so what happened to the original Chosen People? Are we now chopped liver?), and the priest also explained that without the Holocaust having been perpetrated, the State of Israel never would have been created. The implications of that statement were clear to me … First, some people can rationalize anything. And apparently, the Holocaust was a good thing in some circles, a necessary evil. Wow. I’ve thought about that and still wonder what sort of advisory committee the Almighty has on call. Did one of them actually come up with a bright idea when the question was posed, “How can we reestablish Israel?” and suggest, “Let’s create the Nazi Party and let them kill six or seven million Jews, and that should do the trick.” Seriously? Omniscience should mean a really GOOD and clever solution to a problem, perhaps as in, “Poof, see guys? Look down there, near Jordan. It’s Israel. Now let’s eat.”
In perhaps May of 1967, somebody called me and invited me to attend a meeting. I’m not taking the Fifth here; I honestly don’t recall who it was or why he called me, other than him knowing I can be quite blunt and have the ability to drive my point home in a debate all the way to the hilt. Should have been an attorney, in retrospect. Cohen and Levy, Washington, D.C. Well, maybe not.
So I arrived at the designated hotel in downtown Chicago on time, we all shook hands as introductions were made, and we were soon ushered into an adjoining room. Perhaps eight of us.
Cameras, microphones, reporters, lights. One of the others in our group admonished me. “Don’t say anything, look serious, and don’t smile for the cameras.” “Don’t smile?” I thought. My mother would have been very upset. I learned later than several of the cameras were being manned by F.B.I. agents.
And our leader began speaking. Well, not MY leader, I didn’t really know the guy. His name was Rabbi Meir Kahane, who later founded the Jewish Defense League in 1968. It was their motto that lured me, “Never Again.” My sentiments, exactly, but through education first, and violence, if necessary. Through its activities and tactics, the JDL was eventually declared a terrorist organization, and I, still wet behind the ears from my Bar Mitzvah sixteen years earlier, was probably being labeled a future terrorist at that moment by J. Edgar Hoover’s finest.
Hoover passed away in 1972, and I’ve often wondered if somehow I’ll eventually be linked to that, as well. So far, so good.
After the brief press conference, I truly regretted not smiling at the cameras. Perhaps doing a little soft shoe might have been in order, and certainly I should have begun singing our national anthem. I also regretted not having sparklers. And I really needed Chevy Chase to assist me, at that moment, as well, but I couldn’t call Fletch. Cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. So I remained serious as the FBI filmed away, and perhaps my demeanor was menacing (seriously, me menacing? Read my lips, bud. Rambo is menacing. The Rock is menacing. But Woody Allen is not and will never appear menacing, even if he flips you the bird and growls a lot. I don’t look much like Woody, but on the scale of menacing, we are both at most a 0.17 on a scale of ten.)
So I met with Meir Kahane and his associates after the news conference, and I was given an assignment, to become a JDL assassin. Well, future JDL assassin (since the organization hadn’t been created yet), but assassin of the moment, nonetheless. And completely without pay. No Swiss accounts, no bearer bonds. Just the task, to which I readily agreed.
No training was involved. No hand-to-hand combat practice, nor a repetitive quick chop to the throat technique improvement class was in my agenda. I simply was told to await the designated morning.
I didn’t sleep much the night before my big day. Assassin’s nerves, I guess. I arrived at my office early, turned on a radio, and began to listen to a local talk show. On the air, George Lincoln Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party, and one of his Lieutenants were being interviewed. The interview went on, and I noted that Rockwell, and even more so, his associate, did a lot of sarcastic snarling when answering questions. To his credit, the interviewer remained calm and neutral, and then the moment arrived. The broadcast was opened up for questions.
“Call this number to speak to one of the Nazis,” was my cue. I dialed several times and was greeted by busy signals, until finally the phone rang. “Hold, please, you’ll be on the air soon,” a voice proclaimed.
As I waited, I listened to several callers who were former concentration camp survivors. Through their tears, they attempted to question and scorn Rockwell, who deftly parried their blows. He was an educated man, a former Commander in the U.S. Navy and a philosophy major at Brown University. He openly dismissed the tragedies expressed by aging callers and laughed at them on the air.
And then, I, the assassin, was suddenly on the air, and my weapons were solely information and truth.
“Mr. Rockwell,” I began, “I am a Jew, and I have a beautiful little daughter. What will you do with her, sir, if you somehow come to power in this nation?”
He hesitated and said something extraneous, and I persisted. “What will you do to my daughter, Mr. Rockwell, when you and your Nazis take over this great country?”
He hesitated, and said something about deporting all undesirables. I responded by informing him that we are Americans first, and Jews second. “I do not choose to leave this nation, and we will stay,” I maintained. “So what will you do to me and my family, when we refuse deportation as ‘undesirables’? Roadside shootings? Concentration camps? Soot and ashes falling nonstop from overtasked ovens and chimneys reminiscent of those near Dachau?”
He was silent and I plunged a stake through his wicked heart. “Mr. Rockwell, isn’t all this anti-Semitic behavior that you espouse simply a byproduct of your personal problems with your parents?” I sensed he was staring at the microphone as I continued. “Your parents are Jewish, they live in Olympia Fields, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago, and I suggest you call your mother and apologize for your Nazism and the insult you are to your family. According to law and tradition, if your mother is a Jew, then so are you, but that’s something you already know.”
My call to Commander Nazi ended shortly thereafter.
George Lincoln Rockwell was assassinated by a member of his own party on August 25, 1967, but I was the actual assassin. And I’m proud to my Yiddish little core that I had the opportunity to slice and dice that piece of vermin in a national forum.
On November 5, 1990, Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated by an American citizen living in New Jersey who was born in Egypt, El Sayyid Nosair. They kill us. They kill their own. And we kill them. Life and death go on, and after two thousand years, little has changed.
One of the reasons I remain at arms’ length from religious zealots can be explained best by a joke I treasure. The more you appreciate it, the less important our differences become, and there is within the next few lines a direct proportion between how loud you will laugh and how tolerant you are.
Two young boys grow up in neighboring homes in Jerusalem, and they become inseparable friends, brothers from two wombs. The parents of these two boys are polite to one another but are not nearly as close as their sons are with one another. The two boys become young men, one decides to become a priest in keeping with his Christian upbringing, and the other boy decides to become a rabbi, in keeping with his faith. Years and then decades pass. The two men age and become old and wise. In the twilight of their years, they meet each day, have coffee, and then near sunset, they wander the streets of Jerusalem together, hoping to turn a corner and see the Messiah standing there to greet them.
Months become years, but the two dear friends, now frail old men, continue their ritual. One day, as the setting sun casts brilliant streaks of color all about them, the two men turn a corner and there, before them in all His glory stands the Messiah. Both the elderly priest and the old rabbi kneel immediately, and each, in his own way, gives thanks and says a prayer in honor of this incredible moment.
It’s the rabbi who raises his head ever so slightly, and he squints at the visage of the Almighty before him, basked in the blinding glow of the setting sun.
The rabbi, with great humility says, “So tell me, have you ever been in this part of town before?”
The acorn for this article is a photograph. I perused the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem website earlier today, and was stunned by this.
The photo to the right is young Gabor Neumann, and he was a victim of the Holocaust.
Just four years old, he was murdered at Auschwitz on June 29, 1944, only because he and his parents were Jews. You’re probably sitting right now while you read this article. I want you to stand up, straight and tall, if you are honestly capable of murdering this child. He was guilty of practicing a faith other than yours, and that is not a crime. It was his right to do so. Whether you are a Jihadist or not, whether you are a Jew gazing at a photograph of a Muslim child, and whether you are fanatical in your beliefs or not, the sense of decency and humanity that’s within all of us should cause you to remain seated. Tomorrow and the next day, I ask that you remember this lesson.
To the left is another photograph, this one taken in 1946 of a three-year-old boy.
His name is Alan Levy, and I was that child. At another time and place, I could have so easily been Gabor Neumann, and so might any of you have been that precious young boy.
Alan N. Levy is the author of the geo-political thriller, The Tenth Plague, which Kirkus Reviews calls, “a bombastic and cinematic thriller … A fleet and dramatic … tale of global conflict.” The novel is available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local bookstore.