We are in the lobby of Jerusalem’s Renaissance Hotel, where the New York state assemblyman is staying, following a three-day stint in Sderot. There he celebrated Purim with the town’s besieged residents, for whom he had raised $50,000 through his weekly radio show, broadcast Saturday nights on WMCA.
We distributed shalah manos [gift baskets] to each of the 6,000 families and paid for a party – attended by 1,000 people – with music and clowns,” says Hikind, pride laced with sadness. “And they smiled.”
Hikind, 57, says he was “emotionally and mentally affected” by what he experienced in the Kassam-bombarded area.
“I would urge every Israeli in the country to go there,” he emphasizes. “Not just to shop [as a way of expressing solidarity by helping the local economy], but to spend time talking to people and getting a feel for what they’re going through.”
As to his connections to the fact that Hikind was once a follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Hikind laughs when questioned about this connection, shaking his head at the way this particular detail of his life keeps coming back if not to bite him then to be magnified out of proportion.
“I was involved with Kahane over 40 years ago, when he was in New York fighting anti-Semitism, advocating for Soviet Jewry and helping the Jewish poor who no one knew existed,” he explains, adding, “I’m proud of every single moment, let me make that very clear. Rabbi Kahane had a great influence on me. I was attending yeshiva. No one had ever spoken to me before about my responsibility to other Jews by actually doing something, not just theorizing about it.” However, insists Hikind, “When Kahane came to Israel and started calling Arabs cockroaches and things like that, I thought it was wrong on his part – and I said so.”
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