The early 1970’s when I was a student at the University of Maryland were contentious times. Confrontation between authority figures and the student body was the standard mode of interaction.
I served as the Director of State Affairs, which meant that I was liaison to the various branches of the Maryland state government on behalf of the 35,000 undergraduate students at the University of Maryland. In that capacity I spoke before committees of the state legislature and lobbied on bills that had an impact on students and student life. I worked closely with officials of the Maryland state government, including Marvin Mandel, Maryland’s first Jewish governor.
As a result, when I was invited by a close friend of his, Bruce Bereano, to offer a blessing at a roast/toast being held in honor of Governor Mandel’s 90th birthday at the University of Maryland, I was happy to be able to do so.
The speakers on the program included Congressman Steny Hoyer, who had served in the Maryland state legislature when Mandel was governor, John Hanson Briscoe, who was the Speaker of the House of Delegates at the time, Comptroller Peter Franchot, former Governor, Robert Ehrlich, and several other public figures. Senate President, Mike Miller, was the emcee of the event. After the series of speeches, Governor Mandel came up to the podium and said how pleased he was with how things went. He mentioned, being the astute politician that he is, he merely reminded all the speakers who came before him that he would be having the last word so they should be kind to him.
I was then called up to offer the benediction. Upon reaching the podium I said,” Governor, with all due respect, I would like to correct you. As you can see, it is not you who has the last word – but the rabbi.” I then proceeded to offer the prayer listed below and concluded with the Priestly Blessing. It was a great honor to be able to say this blessing over a former governor who had such an impressive array of accomplishments during his career of public service. It was especially meaningful because of my connection to him from over 35 years ago and because he was so deeply moved and touched by it.
May 4, 2010
We gather together tonight to honor a man whose career spans over four decades, a man who came from humble beginnings and who ascended to a position of prominence and leadership;
Whose career of distinction and public service was recognized with one of the greatest honors a public servant could ever have ever bestowed upon him – a sandwich named after him at Ruth & Chick’s deli.
As Governor, he sought to help the little guy – and not just because he too was a little guy.
Rather because he understood that the purpose of government is to help, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “to uphold the fallen, to heal the sick and to loosen the bonds of oppression.”
We have heard about his distinguished career and all he did for our state and his impressive accomplishments for the principle of tikun olam, making our society a better place.
So we give thanks to you O God for his leadership and for his years of service.
We ask, May God almighty grant you continued blessing to go m’hayil l’hayil, from strength to strength.
And I invite him to come forward so that I may ask God’s continued blessing for you, Governor Mandel, with the words that would have been recited at your Bar Mitzvah… (Birkat HaKohanim – The Priestly Benediction).
Also published on Medium.