Wednesday, November 7, 2018

North Star State’s First Jewish Senator

Rudolph Ely Boschwitz was born on November 7, 1930 in Berlin, Germany to his Jewish parents Lucy (Dawidowicz) and Eli. When he was 3, coinciding with Hitler’s rise to power, the Boschwitz family immigrated to New Rochelle, NY. Rudy attended Johns Hopkins University, and pursued graduate studies both at the NYU Stern School of Business and NYU Law School, where he graduated in 1953. In 1956, Rudy married Ellen Antoinette Loewenstein; they have four sons.

Although he was admitted to the New York and Wisconsin state bars, Boschwitz went into business and founded Plywood Minnesota in 1963 and served as its chairman. Eventually the name changed to Home Valu Interiors, which grew into a home improvement chain with 68 stores.

After a successful business career, Rudy entered politics. In November, 1978, Rudy was elected as an Independent-Republican to the United States Senate representing the State of Minnesota, the first Jew to represent Minnesota in the Senate. He defeated the Democratic incumbent Wendell Anderson, who, in 1977, as Governor of Minnesota, had himself appointed to fill the seat of Minnesotan Vice President Walter Mondale. After two terms in Washington, Boschwitz was defeated by Democrat Paul Wellstone in 1990. Boschwitz challenged Wellstone again in 1996 but lost a second time.

Boschwitz’ seat has been occupied by a Jew until the recent resignation of Senator Al Franken. Senator Wellstone was killed in a plane crash, days before the 2002 election, and was won by Brooklyn-born Norm Coleman. Senator Coleman lost a very tight election to Al Franken in 2008, who was re-elected in 2014. 

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush dispatched Boschwitz to Ethiopia as his emissary. Boschwitz’s negotiations helped lead to Operation Solomon, which saw the airlifting of 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In 2005, president George W. Bush appointed Boschwitz as U.N. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Boschwitz continues to be a strong supporter of Jewish and pro-Israel causes, most notably his leadership roles with Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

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