At Jewish Community Action, our mission is to organize the progressive Jewish community of Minnesota to take action on social and economic justice issues across our state. And this past Sunday, our staff and board had the opportunity to share notes with a progressive Jew fighting for justice at the federal level: U.S. Senator Al Franken.
In many ways, this meeting felt like it was a long time in the making. Senator Franken holds the seat once held by Senator Paul Wellstone, who, before his untimely death in 2002, was a staunch supporter and ally of JCA. Additionally, Senator Franken is a champion of many of the issues about which JCA staff and members care deeply: he introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act in 2011, calling for safe schools for all of our nation’s students; in 2013, he pushed for common sense gun violence prevention legislation by co-sponsoring Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Federal Assault Weapons Ban; as part of his work for immigration reform, he is a co-sponsor of the federal DREAM Act, which JCA helped pass at the state level in 2013; and, finally, Senator Franken is committed to foreclosure prevention, and introduced legislation to create the federal Office of the Homeowner Advocate, which would help homeowners at risk of foreclosure keep their homes. Oh, and let’s not forget that Senator Franken is a fan of marriage equality.
Even though Senator Franken shares many values and campaigns with JCA, and proudly follows in Senator Wellstone’s tradition of justice and progressivism, there was still much to learn and discuss this past Sunday, when approximately 30 JCA staff and board members had brunch with the Senator. Through a casual program (and over delicious food), Senator Franken discussed his work in Washington, and shared stories of unlikely cooperation, memories of heartbreaking disappointments, and—as you might expect—a few hilarious jokes.
Members of the JCA staff and board had a chance to speak (and joke), as well. Longtime JCA-board-member Steven Foldes told a brief history of the organization, and explained to Senator Franken that, for thousands of Jews across the state, JCA is a home away from home. Janice Goldstein recalled how she became involved in JCA’s foreclosure prevention work, and proudly told the Senator about two unbelievable wins that this campaign saw in 2013: a loan modification for Rose McGee and the passage of the Minnesota Homeowner’s Bill of Rights. Throughout the entire program—which included several touching presentations from JCA staff and leaders—Senator Franken was literally on the edge of his seat, and turned his entire body to face each speaker with enthusiasm.
At one point during the program, JCA executive director Vic Rosenthal was sure to clarify that, although JCA has an impressive and growing membership, the organization does not claim to represent the entire Jewish community of Minnesota. “No, I do!” Senator Franken retorted, causing the room to erupt in laughter. Of course, the Senator was joking, and much like JCA, he knows that he does not (and cannot) represent all Jews of Minnesota. Still, JCA is proud of the values and traditions he represents and the work he does in Washington.
So thank you, Senator Franken, for pursuing social and economic justice for our nation, and thank you, JCA members, for continuing that work here in Minnesota.