Boschwitz, Rudolph Eli
BOSCHWITZ, RUDOLPH ELI
BOSCHWITZ, RUDOLPH ELI ("Rudy"; 1930– ), U.S. senator, businessman. The son of Ely and Lucy (Dawidawicz) Boschwitz, Rudy Boschwitz was born in Berlin, where his father was a prosperous stockbroker. When Hitler became German chancellor in January 1933, the Boschwitzes fled first to Czechoslovakia and then to Switzerland, the Netherlands, England, and finally, in 1935, the United States.
Boschwitz received his early education in the public schools of New Rochelle, New York. At sixteen, he entered Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and then transferred to New York University, where he earned a B.S. in business in 1950 at age 20 and an LL.B. in 1953. Shortly after passing the New York bar exam in 1954, Boschwitz served two years in the United States Army. After practicing law for two years in New York he joined his brother's growing plywood business in Wisconsin in 1957. Seven years later, he moved on to Minnesota, where he founded his own business, a store stocking do-it-yourself building items, paneling, lumber, and assorted building items. He called it Plywood Minnesota. By the time he was 45, Boschwitz had 67 Plywood Minnesota franchises throughout the upper Midwest.
Boschwitz became a household name by appearing in his company's attention-getting, often ridiculous television advertisements. He became increasingly active in Republican politics. In 1978, he successfully ran for the United States Senate.
Entering the United States Senate in January 1979, Boschwitz was appointed to the Committee on Foreign Relations, where naturally he devoted his energies to the issue of refugees. Boschwitz was easily reelected to a second term in 1984.
During his 16 years in the Senate, Boschwitz was also a strong – though not thoroughly uncritical – supporter of Israel. He was influential during his second six-year term on Capitol Hill as chair of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern Affairs as well as chair of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. A Reform Jew, Boschwitz contributed heavily to the Lubavitch House in St. Paul and served as state chair of the Minneapolis Jewish Fund. Within the Senate, he was well known for "playing matchmaker with single Jews on his and other Capitol Hill staffs."
In 1990 Rudy Boschwitz was challenged for reelection by Carleton College Professor Paul David *Wellstone. Like the conservative Boschwitz, the liberal Wellstone was a Jew. The race represented the first time in American history that two Jewish candidates had vied for the same Senate seat. And despite the fact that Minnesota has a tiny Jewish population – less than 1% of the total – the election hinged in large part on the issue of who was the better Jew. In a letter signed by 72 of his Jewish supporters, and sent out to Jewish voters, Boschwitz scored Wellstone for having married a non-Jewish woman and charged that his opponent "took no part in Jewish affairs and has not raised his children as Jews." The strategy backfired; Wellstone defeated Boschwitz by nearly 50,000 votes. Following his defeat, Boschwitz was named President George H.W. Bush's special emissary to Ethiopia. Boschwitz's mission resulted in "Operation Solomon," one of the boldest humanitarian airlifts in history; within a single 24-hour period, 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were evacuated to Israel.
Eager for a rematch against Wellstone, Boschwitz passed up running for an open Senate seat – a political rarity – in 1994. He got what he wanted, but lost by more than 100,000 votes. In 2005 he was named American ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
K.F. Stone, The Congressional Minyan: The Jews of Capitol Hill (2000), 38–41. M. Polner, American Jewish Biographies (1983), 45–46.
[Kurt Stone (2nd ed.)]
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