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“Live from Potomac: It’s Saturday Night!”

An Evening with Al Franken

On Sunday night, June 6th, we presented the David Ifshin Annual Memorial Award to Minnesota Senator Al Franken. The turnout of between 300 – 350 people was the largest we have ever had for this annual event. The award is given in honor of David Ifshin who had a distinguished career as an attorney and who sought to build bridges between individuals of different political persuasions and thought, who lived life with zest and passion, who had a keen interest in contemporary affairs and whose life tragically ended way too soon at the young age of 47.


Franken’s appearance at the synagogue generated some controversy – I received an anonymous letter from someone who objected, as well as an email from someone concerned that Franken was too polarizing an individual. For all the concern about his being here, he actually was very non-controversial. He spoke personally and touched upon issues of faith and how it helps when dealing with loss.


I believe, as did David and his family who established the award in his memory, that the synagogue should be a place where a free exchange of ideas can occur. It should be a place where we are intellectually challenged and stimulated and where significant ideas and contemporary issues that affect us and our society are discussed and debated in a respectful manner. In this way, a synagogue fulfills its mission as a beit knesset, a place of assembly and of meeting. Although I do not have a copy of his talk, here is an excerpt from my introduction of him.


As many of you know, prior to beginning his current career as a public servant, tonight’s speaker began his career as a performer who did stand-up comedy and impersonations in a number of clubs and comedy venues. Oh, this must be a mistake …. I’m sorry, I am reading from my bio, rather than our speaker’s ….

Al grew up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, and graduated from Harvard in 1973. He was elected to represent the State of Minnesota two years ago in the United States Senate, in a major landslide, and was sworn in July of 2009 following a statewide hand recount, just to be sure.

….In his short time since becoming a member of the United States Senate, he has focused on economic and environmental issues. In choosing Mr. Franken as this year’s honoree, he was chosen for a number of reasons, but primarily because he is good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like him.


Also published on Medium.


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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.