I recently attended a lecture in honor of the retirement at age 80 of Rabbi Bernard Raskas from the faculty of Macalester College, where he had served for 18 years. As chief rabbi for many years at the Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, Rabbi Raskas has laid hands on four generations of my family and holds a special place in our hearts. He is also a Minnesota institution in his own right.
Rabbi Raskas characteristically turned his retirement into an occasion for thought and edification. He invited Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University to mark the occasion by giving a lecture on the history of Jews in the United States in connection with Sarna’s new book on the subject — American Judaism: A History — commemorating the arrival of Jews in North America 350 years ago. (Click here for Rabbi Raskas’s review of Sarna’s book.)
I slipped into the Macalester auditorium a few minutes before the lecture was scheduled to begin and looked for an aisle seat in the middle of the auditorium. After I sat down the gentleman sitting next to me turned and asked who was giving the lecture. The gentleman asking the question was unmistakably Walter Mondale, an old friend of Rabbi Raskas.
I introduced myself, telling him that I had worked in his Washington office as a summer intern in 1969. With brilliant tact I omitted any mention of my hand in the recent Star Tribune column in which I claimed that he had lost his mind, and he clearly did not associate me with it.
I told him that if Rabbi Raskas had a buck for every time he had plugged Mondale from the pulpit he could have retired many years ago. I also mentioned that I had purchased the autographed copy of his (Mondale’s) law review note on campaign finance legislation that he had donated to the University of Minnesota Law School when he was vice president. He smiled and half-asked, half stated that it wasn’t a very good piece, was it?
I said, on the contrary, that it was an outstanding piece, precocious and prescient. He said, in a completely self-effacing manner, that he would have to reread it. He could literally teach himself a thing or two — he’s been heading downhill for roughly 50 years now — but I omitted any mention of that as well.
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