Sometimes when we surf the internet we get a big surprise. Last week was no exception for me when I stumbled on an amazing article about the life of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. During my youth I would often hear members of my extended family discuss him and argue about him. It seemed that while all my family supported his general goal of helping the Jewish people in need, there were both negative things and positive things stated about the controversial rabbi.
Now Rabbi Kahane is my hero and I am striving to learn as much about him as I can. You see, I am a PWS (person who stutters) and was totally unaware that he was also a PWS until I read a revealing article on the subject called “The Key to Greatness” by Tzir Fishman in The Jewish Press. I was absolutely fascinated to learn that in his early 20’s while a student at Mirrer Yeshiva Rabbinical Seminary in Brooklyn, Kahane realized that he could never fulfill his grandiose dreams of aiding the Jewish people if he did not address his stuttering. In 1952 he enrolled at The Martin Hall Institute for Speech Disorders in Rhode Island, and made a great deal of progress, enabling him to become a compelling orator.
I think that Kahane’s personal story is inspiring and one that could motivate other people struggling with stuttering. In fact, 1% of the worldwide adult population stutters in addition to 4% of the child population at some time during their development. 75% of these children who stutter stop stuttering while the other 25% become adult people who stutter. These statistics apply to Israel as well as to the worldwide Jewish population. I read on the website of The Jewish Stuttering Association (www.jstutter.org) that 500,000 people of our Jewish faith are affected by stuttering.
As you can imagine, so many different theories abound for treating stuttering in children but all experts agree that the most important thing is to get a child in front of a speech therapist immediately when the stuttering begins to increase the chances that the child will be among the 75% of stuttering kids who stop stuttering.
While I do have newfound interest in Rabbi Meir Kahane after learning of his stuttering, in my life I have both heard of and come across other rabbis who stutter. For example, Rabbi Mark Glickman of Washington state wrote an essay entitled “Reflections of a Stuttering Rabbi”, which is available on the internet. For me, I know that people who are striving for fluency through speech therapy need a measure of faith as well, regardless of their religious affiliation.
When I was growing up in the 1980’s, of course there was no internet, but there were also limited resources in that I felt alone in my struggle with my speech. Now, it is a different world for people who stutter with many resources available. The Israeli Stuttering Association (www.ambi.org.il) is an absolutely dynamic organization dedicated to helping people who stutter in Israeli, as well as serving as a resource for people in other countries. In 2010, The Jewish Stuttering Association was formed in the U.S. to serve the Jewish people both there and abroad. The JSA promotes Torah-related activities for its members in addition to giving financial assistance to needy families for speech therapy for their children. The organization has grown immensely in just two years, connecting people who stutter of the Jewish faith.
Also, the website of The Stuttering Foundation (www.stutteringhelp.org) offers a downloadable brochure called “Special Education Law and Children Who Stutter”, which details the amazing fact that every child in the U.S. with any type of speech problem has the right to free speech therapy, which can start at age three and run throughout high school. Begun 40 years ago through federal legislation, the only prerequisite is that the child be enrolled in any type of school, whether public, private or religious. What is a shame is that so many parents, especially parents with kids in Jewish schools throughout the country, do not know that their children are eligible for this incredible benefit of free therapy.
All speech problems are covered under this federal program of free therapy, and the parents economic status is irrelevant in terms of eligibility. The site of this nonprofit organization. also provides many free and helpful resources for people who stutter and parents of children. People all over the world have found help and guidance through the website of the non-profit Stuttering Foundation, which offers things like streaming videos, downloadable brochures, and an international directory of speech therapists. What I like about The Stuttering Foundation is their global outreach to over 130 countries per year, mostly in the third world.
During his career, Rabbi Meir Kahane received much media coverage in the U.S., in Israel, and throughout the world. Many things were said about him. It is a shame that his legacy does not include that he is a role model for people who stutter in that after battling stuttering he sought speech therapy and found fluency. Thank you, Rabbi Kahane, because you have inspired me and will undoubtedly inspire more people if your story is told.
Adam R. Lichter is a business consultant in Springfield, Massachusetts