October 10, 2013

I have met Steve Lonegan. He is a fellow Republican and there are obvious areas of policy agreement. But many things trump party loyalty, with friendship being foremost among them.

I have known and loved Cory Booker for 21 years. Ever since he walked into our Jewish student facility in Oxford's ancient city center almost accidentally more than two decades ago on the Jewish festival of Simchas Torah, we have been soul friends. I was Rabbi to the students and he was an African-American Rhodes scholar. Within days we were studying Torah together several times a week and hosting other students at our “Kosher Soul Food” dinners that Cory made with my wife, Debbie, at our home. Within a year Cory was so popular among our thousands of student members that he became the first ever non-Jewish president of a major Jewish student organization, The L'Chaim Society at Oxford, which I had founded in 1989.

Inasmuch as I have written many articles about Cory and his relationship, as a Christian, with Judaism, there is no need to recount so many of the tales here that demonstrate what a special person he is. Suffice it so say that the attacks I am reading against him run utterly contrary to the truth.

What has always distinguished Cory, as I have always told him, is not his charisma, remarkable oratorical skills, or leadership qualities, impressive as they may be. Rather, it is his love for all of God's children. Cory was born with a unique sensitivity to the suffering of others. He has always placed himself among the underprivileged and those struggling to make ends meet. Even as a Rhodes scholar he would leave the ivory tower of Oxford academia and travel to Blackbird Leys, an economical depressed British housing estate, to organize programs for the youth. There were no press cameras on him and no votes to be had. Only his close friends knew of his work there.

The attacks on him about not caring enough about Newark are malicious and ignorant. Aside from all the positive information known to the public of how he has taken his city forward, there have been so many occasions that I have visited him privately in his office in Newark where he has been in the midst of conversations with underprivileged youth of the city whom he is mentoring. Criticism by his political adversaries about crime in Newark ignore the city's history prior to his taking office and the personal sacrifices he has made to keep all the residents of his city safe. A regular at Shabbat Friday night dinners at our home, there were endless occasions when he had to leave early with the Newark police so he could personally go out on patrols late at night to reduce crime, amid considerable risk to himself. How many other mayors can claim the same?

He has also been the most loving friend. When my daughter Mushki was getting married two years ago Cory called me and said, “Shmuley, I feel like your kids are my own. Please make the wedding on a night that I don't have city responsibilities. It's inconceivable that I would not be there.” On the night of the wedding he was the first guest to arrive and danced up a storm.

The same was true for the celebrations of the birth of our three sons when a Jewish father is obligated to stay up the whole night studying Torah for spiritual protection before the circumcision-bris. Cory, a non-Jew facing his biggest exams as an Oxford student, stayed up with me the entire night and then repeated the exercise twice, first as a Newark councilman and then as a Mayoral candidate.

And, as a friend, he has so often agreed to participate in our organization's public events – obviously not earning a penny (indeed he's a financial supporter of our work to promote universal values, like having regular family dinners, in American society and culture). If he met wealthy donors at these events, he was always speaking to them about projects they could fund in Newark for the benefit of residents. Impressed as they were with his unbridled passion for his city, a great many got involved.

And how many times were we in his Suburban, driving through the city, when he would jump out of the car to personally meet residents who were just walking by, offering them his warm smile and hearing their concerns.

Those who now falsely attack Cory as more interested in his celebrity than people don't know the Oxford student who, at his graduation, was lovingly greeted by the middle-aged, mature students of Oxford whom the younger students ignored but Cory always befriended.

I am close with many leaders of the Republican party and I ran for Congress as a Republican. I believe in the party's message of dignity through self reliance, even as I have challenged the fixation on some of its social values. But in this age of hyper-partisanship it is incumbent upon us all to put principles before party, values before divisiveness, and truth over fiction.

Cory Booker is a special and unique man, a true friend, a devoted public servant, an inspiration to millions nationally, and someone who has taught me to be more caring of others. He will make the most incredible Senator for the residents of the state of New Jersey.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America's Rabbi,” has been named by The Washington Post and Newsweek as “the most famous Rabbi in America'' and was the winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year competition at the millennium. A recipient of The American Jewish Press Association's Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary, he has just published 'The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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