Irv Rubin was 26 years old in 1971, the year he first heard Rabbi Meir Kahane speak. It was, Rubin says, "the first time I'd ever heard a rabbi speak to my feelings . . . . I'd lost touch with my Jewish roots and, ever since that day, it's been Jewish activism."
Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), resigned from the organization Aug. 19 to pursue a political career in Israel, where he is a member of the Knesset (parliament). He appointed Rubin as his successor.
Rubin said he joined the JDL 14 years ago after hearing Kahane's speech, in which the rabbi advocated use of force in the face of violent anti-Semitism. A self-described "private investigator and printer," Rubin served as the JDL's West Coast coordinator until his recent promotion.
After The Washingon Post reported last year that Democratic presidential candidate Jesse L. Jackson had referred to New York City as "Hymietown," Rubin formed a group he called "Jews Against Jackson" with the aim of heckling Jackson at campaign stops.
The JDL is a militant organization from which many other Jewish organizations distance themselves. Rubin said he has been arrested 30 times. He stresses that he has never been convicted of a felony and said all of the charges stem from civil disobedience.
"You try to assimilate, blend in . . . but sooner or later, they're going to point out that you're still a Jew," he said in a recent interview.
Rubin said he believes that "Jew-hatred" is on the rise nationwide. He also said he believes that turning the other cheek "might be Christian, but it's not Jewish."
In 1978, Rubin was charged with solicitation of murder after he held a news conference in Los Angeles "offering $500 . . . to any member of the community . . . who kills, maims or seriously injures a member of the American Nazi Party." He was speaking as party members prepared to march in Skokie, Ill., and he was later acquitted.
Last May, a bomb exploded outside the house of George Ashley, a retired San Fernando Valley history teacher who has contended that the Holocaust never occurred. The letters "JDL" were painted on his doorstep at the time of the bombing.
Of the incident, Rubin said, "I can only applaud such measures."
Rubin said his immediate goal is to work toward "the original mandate of the JDL, the battle against Jew-hatred." He described the JDL as an organization "designed to provide a modicum of respect and dignity to Jews living in the diaspora outside Israel ."
He added that "the 6 million Jews who live in America need the JDL" to send a message to "the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen and Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Louis Farrakhan, that if they even dream of hurting one hair on a Jewish head, there are tough young Jews who will take them to task."
Rubin disapproves of assimilation, saying, "I think intermarriage is like Auschwitz. The rate of intermarriage is so high we are dying here . . . . "
Rubin said he "worries" not only about hatred of Jews by outsiders but also by what he called "self-hatred," noting his belief that "there are tens of thousands of Jewish people in this country who have a secret dream that they're going to wake up and be Episcopalians."