By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
Newark, New Jersey (CNN) – Mayor Cory Booker waits in his wood-paneled city hall office for his next visitors. His life, even on a Sunday, is tightly scheduled. He checks the time on his cell phone and lets the ribbing of his two friends, who are now late, begin.
“Jewish time is even worse than black time,” he says, “although I should never drag all the Jewish people down with Shmuley.” And then, about the other guy: “I thought Mormons were always 15 minutes early?”
If the friendship between these men – a black Christian mayor, a rabbi running for Congress and a Mormon university president – wasn't so real, this would sound like a bad joke. Instead, it’s a reflection of how three men from profoundly different backgrounds met 20 years ago, connected and changed one another.
So when this unusual trio got together for a rare meeting this spring, we jumped at the chance to join them.
But before the others arrive, let’s introduce the players.
There’s Booker, the 43-year-old Democratic mayor of Newark, a rising political star and headline grabber, a man who was recently lauded for saving a neighbor from a burning building and grilled for his perceived off-message remarks on a Sunday talk show. He was raised by parents who fought in the courts to integrate the northern New Jersey suburbs where he grew up.
Mayor Cory Booker takes a break on a Sunday from running Newark to dish about his old friends – two men from profoundly different backgrounds. (Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images for CNN)
The two men he’s waiting for are no schlubs themselves.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, 45, is a TV personality, former radio host, prolific author - his books include “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Jesus” - and now Republican congressional candidate in New Jersey. He was also an unofficial spiritual adviser to Michael Jackson. He was raised by a single mom in Miami.
And Michael Benson, a 47-year-old political scientist and president of Southern Utah University, comes from Mormon and Utah royalty, of sorts. His grandfather is the late Ezra Taft Benson, secretary of agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the 13th prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
With his wife and two young children in tow, the Mormon shows up first.
“Brother Benson,” Booker booms, addressing his friend in Mormon-speak as he stands to give him a big hug.
The last time these two had seen each other was five years ago, when they both helped celebrate the rabbi’s 40th birthday in New York. The massive party, as described by the mayor, was “a mosh pit of yarmulkes and sweat.”
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Boteach, who lives in New Jersey and sees the mayor often, rushes into the room on this Sunday a half-hour late.
“Let the record reflect, the Mormon got me lost,” he says by way of hello. The rabbi then glances down at Benson’s two little ones, who sweetly peer up at him.
“They’re a little too Mormon perfect,” he quips. “When Mormons walk into a hurricane, does their hair move?”
Booker, whose nearby desk features a stack of religious texts including the Bhagavad Gita and the Quran, watches as a crowd streams in behind Boteach. The mayor has box seats for this afternoon’s Cirque du Soleil performance of “Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour,” and he wants his friends and their families to join him. But first he demands to know of the rabbi, “How many people are with you? … They just multiply.”
“Are you kidding?” Boteach shoots back. “We have 30 kids.” Actually, he only has nine.
Long before he became an author, TV personality and now congressional candidate, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach ran a popular student organization at Oxford University, which is where he met Benson and Booker. (Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images for CNN)
The three men and their very different worlds collided in the early 1990s at Oxford University in England, where they overlapped for two years. Booker was there on a Rhodes scholarship; Benson on a Rotary scholarship - "but if I slurred, it sounded like Rhodes,” he says. Boteach was there as an emissary for Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic movement in Orthodox Judaism.
The first one to arrive at Oxford was Boteach, in 1988. His official mission was to serve as a rabbi to the students, but by 1990 he’d broadened his outreach by establishing the all-inclusive L’Chaim Society, a campus organization to promote the universal values of Judaism while celebrating differences. The society, whose Hebrew name means “To Life,” became the second largest student group on campus, surging to 5,000 members – no more than 800 of them Jewish.
The Mormon arrived in 1991, having spent six months in Israel at the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center. Benson, who earned a doctorate at Oxford, would write his dissertation on President Harry S. Truman and eventually write a book about the Jewish influences in Truman's life and his contributions to Israel’s founding. (The “Mormon perfect” son in the mayor’s office, it turns out, is named Truman.)
Shortly after Benson arrived at Oxford, a Jewish friend told him about Boteach, saying, “You have to meet this rabbi.”
Boteach admits his previous impressions of Mormons had been pretty negative. Then Benson walked into the L’Chaim Society – and the rabbi’s life – one Friday evening. “Not a hair was out of place,” a slightly disheveled and wild-bearded Boteach says, remembering when they met. “I was fascinated.”
Benson never budged from his own religious beliefs, but he became a devout member and officer of the L’Chaim Society, which held legendary Friday night dinners.
Michael Benson, a grandson of the 13th prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helped change how his friends – and countless others – view Mormons. (Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images for CNN)
Booker arrived on campus a year later. He first met Benson through basketball - they both played for the Oxford Blues - then got to know Boteach with the help of a woman who stood him up for dinner. Booker was supposed to meet her outside the L’Chaim Society; when she never showed, he moseyed inside on his own to check out this mysterious place with a name he couldn’t pronounce.
Inside, hordes of people – many of them drunk – were dancing around with sacred scrolls containing the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. They were celebrating Simchat Torah, a holiday that marks the end of the annual Torah-reading cycle.
“I felt like I walked into a scene from ‘Yentl,’” Booker says.
Booker would go on to become president of the now-defunct organization, taking on tasks like lighting a Hanukkah menorah with Mikhail Gorbachev when the former Soviet leader visited Oxford.
Like Benson, Booker doesn’t drink; together they became allies as well as teammates. At the end of holidays like Simchat Torah or Purim – another raucous Jewish festival where celebrators often get drunk - they bonded as sober men in the room. They also led the Oxford Blues to win a British collegiate championship.
“I was their mascot,” boasts Boteach, whose friends tower above him.
The rabbi and Mormon say the mayor's humanity and heart inspire them. Booker says these two faithful men taught him to love and respect different religions, while helping him deepen his own beliefs and sense of awe. Likewise, both the mayor and Boteach say Benson changed how they and hundreds of others view Mormons.
Booker has been known to have his driver pull over when he spots young Mormon missionaries walking in pairs. He understands they’re often financially strapped, so he gives them some money for food and thanks them for being in his city.
“That’s something I never would have done if I hadn’t met Mike,” the mayor says.
And Booker certainly wouldn’t have pulled all-nighters studying Jewish texts before meeting Boteach. There’s a tradition, the rabbi explains, for a father to stay up and study the night before his son is circumcised. It was the middle of exams at Oxford when the rabbi first roped Booker in to join him the night before his first son Mendy's circumcision. Boteach came back again 11 years ago after the birth of Yosef, to which Booker responded, “Shmuley, you’re killing me” before he agreed to take part.
But the last time the rabbi issued his all-night study decree, Booker wasn’t having it.
“Forget it. Don’t even ask. I’m running for mayor,” the then-candidate told his friend six years ago, after Dovid Chaim was born. At 1 a.m., though, there was a knock on Boteach’s door. “You have 60 minutes. That’s it,” the mayor said as he rushed inside.
“Cory and I see each other whenever he needs advice,” the rabbi likes to say of Booker. And it's comments like this that prompt the mayor to retort, “He needs to get his head examined by a proctologist.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach rushes in for the reunion, and a hug from Booker, 30 minutes late. Michael Benson looks on, laughing as Boteach blames him, “the Mormon,” for making him late. (Shaul Schwarz/Getty Images for CNN)
All kidding aside, these three look out for each other's interests. After leaving Oxford for Yale Law School, Booker became a self-appointed kosher police officer, alerting the rabbi when he heard about Jewish L'Chaim Society members who had stopped keeping kosher. “You really need to do something,” he'd tell the rabbi.
Ever since Boteach learned that Benson’s older brother, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Steve Benson of The Arizona Republic, had shrugged off religion, the rabbi has said he’s on a mission to bring the older Benson back to the LDS Church.
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The Mormon can’t help but marvel at the rabbi’s chutzpah, but he’s happy to let him give it his best shot. So far Boteach has only e-mailed with the older Benson, but he looks forward to a face-to-face meeting so he, the Jew, can give the ex-Mormon the proper Latter-day Saint sell.
Boteach has fallen for the national parks of Utah, where the LDS Church is headquartered. He has lectured a handful of times at universities where Benson has been affiliated. Benson has led the way in scrambling to find kosher food for the rabbi before the two have headed out for weekend hikes.
Booker reflects on his old friends and says, “I love the fact that those two have kept such a good friendship. They’re very different. Mike is humble and soft-spoken; Shmuley is loud and bordering on obnoxious.”
Noticing the time, Booker rushes off to squeeze in a meeting before Cirque du Soleil.
The mayor's friends, at home in his office, take their time leaving. They stroll down the empty and echoing hallways toward the exit of Newark City Hall. The Mormon throws his arm around the rabbi's shoulder.
“I have to get back to Utah soon,” Boteach says. “It's been too long.”
“This time, we'll get you baptized,” Benson tells him.
The suggestion of a Mormon conversion, even in jest, might stop other rabbis in their tracks. But Boteach doesn’t skip a beat: “If it'll get me votes, fine.”
Muhammad sucks balls!
No, he's dead.
Clown, are you a Mason?
Check out Buddhism. The quiet religion.
you'd get a belief system just because it's "quiet"? how foolish,..I'd get a Rational Faith, God willing with His help,..SINCERELY asking from depths of me who I am.
Try NO religion. You'll be smarter.
Haven't you read ...
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
Why does that hairy jew wear silly hat? We have seperation of religion and state!!
Maybe that's why they were scared to speak about Jesus Christ who saves souls for all that believe in Him.
Jesus didn't use a bible, didn't have one, and didn't write it. Acquire Wisdom from going within... I can tell the Jesus experts don't do it....because if you didn't you would NOT quote a bible, or even behave as if you know what happened 2000+ years, let alone try to shove it down anyone else's throat. Master Your Life 1st.
New Age cra ... is going to allow you to fry.
Jesus didn't use a Bible? The writings from the Old Testament were around and quoted throughout the New Testament. Moses, Noah, Isaiah and others are all mentioned by Christ.
.......they turn to each other and say, ok what's our strategy to keep the Muslims out?
If only they discussed His truth ...
What is the point of posting your opinion if in less thank 30 seconds its going to disappear to second, third or God knows which page and no way anybody can read it. How about if CNN keeps all the posts listed on the same page were people can actually follow certain thread.
This page has been active for over two hours.
Islam will insallah one day take over all Christian countries like America and Canada as it has been doing in Europe.
Islam is the only truly religion and Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is Allah's prophet.
Convert to Islam and be part of is. Islam means peace and freedom. It is great to be on Allah's side!
did bella recruit you to convert people?
are you really Muslim or one of those dis-tractors?, if you are a real Muslim, then you know that isn't going to happen.
I already converted to OZ (peace be upon the Emerald City). The great Oz gave me a brain!
Islam will take over other religions if they continue to breed like rabbits. As for being the one true religion, since god (aka allah) doesn't exist so your claim is a foolish one.
The Torah (the law), the Jewish Scriptures, and the gospel of Jesus are all truth from Allah according to the Quran, and the Quran simply claims to confirm these prior Scriptures. Then Muhammad rejects God's truth ....
Few 100% true Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things:
† Atheism is a religion that makes you angry, stupid, brainwashed, ignorant & blind.
† Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
† Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here on CNN blogs are posted by closet Atheists)
† Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
† Atheists are misguided and causes problem in our religious & public society.
† Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
† Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
† Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Hitler (Denied his faith later), Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
† No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
† Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
† Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
† Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
† Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
† Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
† Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
† Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
† All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
† The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
† Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate & Communist countries = Atheism!
**Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**
† † Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator † †
PS! the USA is a † nation and will always be. You know it's true and stop being ignorant and arrogant!
(Take a look at our federal/state holidays, 99% of our presidents, blue laws in parts of the nation, the majority of people, some laws, calendar, culture, etc.)
some one might answer that with I did, but I got molested by a priest.
You must mean well but your posts are arrogant and insulting to those who don't share your beliefs. And no offense intended but I just see, 'blah, blah, blah' and think you are an unfortunately very brainwashed person. Any article that touches on anything to do with religion even as a tiny tangent causes you to post here the same things over and over. I doubt you have converted even a single person who didn't think like you. It does push people who don't think like you further from your beliefs because it seems, frankly, nutty.
Beth you are jewish and your religion cult is not that much better than Islam and Christianity.
Rabbi's molest young boys, force them wear the silly hat, tzitzit, wigs, skirts and all of that BS crap!
Wow, the above list is a load of drivel. If you're going to go to all that trouble, research to get the facts.
"Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people."
So in one fell swoop you invalidated all of your other points. Nice effort genius.
I'm not Orthodox, Johnny. no wigs, can wear a skirt or not if I like (hardly ever do), no "forcing" of wearing anything. I haven't heard of rabbis molesting young boys but I"m sure it has happened. Has it happened with the frequency it has in the Catholic church? Doesn't seem so. I do not believe in forcing children to do anything regarding religion or in brainwashing people to believe a certain thing. That's why I belong to a branch of Judaism that doesn't do this. And Judaism as a whole does not have any required belief. There is nothing I have to believe in order to be Jewish. I'm Jewish by birth. If you ask me what I believe regarding Judaism I'd say the do not do onto others what you would not want done to yourself and trying to help others and to make the world a better place are a good summary. Beyond that, not a heck of a lot if anything. Not ever sure if there is a god or not and don't really have that much interest either way. So, I doubt I'm in a 'cult'. (shrug)
How utterly stupid.
Beth, we're brainwashed? Let me give you an overview of what you got conditioned into believing. You, seriously, believe you got pushed around by ocean waves ... slithered like slime ... or more like, wiggled under the sun glared beaches ... slithered for years to make it to a shaded area ... with no food nor water, no daddy's credit card, no boxed lunch from mommy, heck no cell phone to call for a cab.... fast forward again ... That some how, you avoided being scorched by the blazing sun ... only, the strongest survived ... as you slithered for a few more million years until you crawled, then, ran on all fours ... fast forward to, you now were swinging from trees, eating bananas ... have the audacity to reject your true heritage of Jesus' Christ lineage ... to bring you into the world ... as we wrote the laws that protect you ....teaching you morals and ethics, not to mention the truth about life and the hereafter ... (the Bible) ...that you are responsible for your thoughts, words, outcomes, whether they be righteous, or in your case, easily unrighteous. Am I missing something? Oh, yes, that batman and robin lit a fuse and their was a big bang, pow, kapow ,,. zowie ... explosion.
And God kills them all with a bolt of lightening.
Anybody out there notice that CNN does a lot of "Mormon friendly" stories that really are meaningless? Do you just suppose they have a very influential Mormon on their editors board?
nahhh just a coincidence.
It's there way of conditioning the masses to accept all religions so they can create their own ... ushering in the NWO, which ushers in ....
Nope, its just happen to have pro Israel news anchors who would like to see any one in the White House to replace Obama
So I take it you missed the part with the Jew and the black man? If you are going to be a bigot you may as well spread it around.
I actually was surprised that there was actually a positive Mormon story. CNN has written plenty of Mormon stories with a negative connotation lately. So many infact, that I was beginning to think they had an anti Mormon agenda. Clearly you do.
Actually, it is the Mormons and other religious people themselves that do the weird stupid things. You are only angry that CNN noticed, and that they didn't suppress it.
subjugationn, bigotry is caused when folks don't read His truth in the Bible. It's man made and wouldn't occur if folks actually read the Bible ... and, your excuse is? Oh, I forgot, you guys are still swinging in trees, eating bananas.
They missed one important element of this story:
1. Mormons believe that an airtight submarine filled with Jews landed in Central America
2. Jesus met the Jews at the landing sight (the Mormon Jesus...not the "trinity" Jesus of Christianity)
3. The Native Americans are ancestors of the Jews that arrived (their dark skin was an indication that they were sinners similar to Blacks)
Bottom line: Mormons and Jews have a predisposition to be "brothers". The Book of Mormon would not exist if the Jews landed somewhere else. If this makes sense, Mormonism is for you. If not, run for the hills if you see them knocking on your door.
And all the cultures Jesus visited 2000 years ago have zero historical record... no ruins, no burial grounds, no writings, no archaeological remains, nothing. I guess they vanished with those mysterious freakin' gold tablets!
What? If you read Jesus' truth (the Bible) you'd realize that all the races were created on the 6th day, and God said it was good.
The rest of my post is being blocked, as were 3 other posts, so far, today.
Effed, and who's blocking this truth? Certainly, not Christians. LOL.
No they run these stories to try and show you what the REAL LDS faith is about as so many of you have such stupid thoughts about the LDS. You should be better informed about a faith before you spout off lies about it.
The LDS church still believes in and teaches plural marriage, a.k.a. polygamy. Two of their living 'apostles' have been sealed for eternity to more than one wife. Ask your Mormon friend, who with a straight face tells you they no longer believe or teach plural marriage, to show you Doctrine & Covenants Section 132. They consider that scripture from God and it's still there for all of us to see.
This article highlights how people should be. Many of these comments (looking at you Denver and Glenn) highlight, disappointingly, how people are. It's time to grow up.
Someone in the mormon church must have hurt your sensitive feelings. Just wipe away the tears and move on. No need to spread your hate. I wish the mormon church did practice polygamy. I would join and have many wives. I would pick a mexican, asian, pacific islander, and many more.
Not to mention your little claim is patently false. It has been denounced and actively punished for over a hundred years. I think it's time for you to get with the times and do your research, and maybe (I know this will be hard for you) stop being so hateful.
I'm not a mormon but I still know better than that. Go educate yourself and stop wasting your spare time spewing ignorant hate. Life is too short to try to get people to hate others. Happy Sunday! :D
I saw a story today where a retired teacher...
""A California man was rescued after his 50-foot sailboat was struck by a whale while he was sailing alone about 40 miles off the coast of Mexico.
The impact from the collision disabled the sailboat's steering and the vessel began taking on water late Tuesday.
Max Young, 67, a retired Sacramento high school teacher, quickly stuffed a mattress into the hole in the ship's hull and activated several pumps.""
High school teacher with a 50' sailboat. hmm... I wonder what college profs have? What about administrators, principals, deans, regents, provosts, chancellors, board members, education bureaucrats., etc etc etc.... what do the make??????
And you wonder wht tuition is going up?
Effed, so, what you are writing is that you are miffed about his pension instead of thanking God that this retiree made it to safety. I'd say, your parents wasted their money on your education.
I was responding to Colly Studentee. #dontdoublemyrates.
It's a point about the bureaucracy of education (especially in CA) is broken and expensive. $57B budgeted for edu in CA this coming fiscal year. I'm way glad the ole teacher made it safely home.. way cool jr.
I hope this clarifies it for you.
Effed, I thought California went belly up years ago ... not having money for a budget? Must have been all the celebrity fund raisings.
Now if only the whole world could take a lesson fro these three, we'd be war free! I applaud you!
They have eyes but they cannot see.
You do realize that after the director said, "OK gentlemen, that's a wrap!" ... and the camera crew left the room, they beat the crapolla outta each other... right?
You know, we have a special today. The Brooklyn Bridge is for sale, and I can offer you a very good price. Think of all the money you can make on tolls, and it is just so beautiful. You might even be able to put condos on in. It will be your own war-free happy-happy land. Great price, and you are obviously have the kind of keen insight to go for something like this.
Kathy, if everyone read the Bible, there would be no wars, no prejudice, no hatred. All those are man's inventions.
Heaven sent, is that why there were the Crusades, the inquisition, the holocaust, the war in Ireland between two groups of Christians, etc, etc? Doesn't seem that nations with majority of people who 'read the bible' have a claim on peace or no war or not killing wrongfully.
Beth, educate yourself on the Kenites that infiltrated the churches ... then we'll talk.
An athiest, a liberal and an anarchist walk into a room...
Now THAT would be an interesting room to be in, instead of this weird self-promotion of these three skanky media whores.
Anyone notice all the cameras and press at their little get-together? Are you all so stupid as to not realized what a fabricated media event this was, how inauthentic and manipulative and self-promoting?
A priest, a child molester, and a thief walk into a room, yet there's only one person in the room.
In an age where we are surrounded by divisiveness and extremes, it is good to get a story where differences are cherished and only reinforce friendships vs. being a source of division. These three gentlemen are changing lives everyday and I am happy to read about their friendship.
The problems come when people want to impose their religion on others.
Brian, it's just ushering the NWO for those that never read the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation.
Three grown men can play pretend but put their imaginations aside and still be friends.
Especially when the cameras and the press are there, and two are running for office.
bs alarm going off ... lmao. I can smell the bullshjt from California!
Really, is this what passes as news on CNN, now a days? Top center of the webpage. Please do some serious reporting, not fluff pieces like this.
On a Sunday, I'll take it. Great story for our country that seems to only have news of polarization these days.
Why not call it what it is. More, dumbing down of society ...
Religious friends who care so little about each others' eternal lives and salvation can get along very well.
Bunch of hindu's, lairs in their hindu Judaism, filthy self center ism to hind, fool humanity.
Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Everyone else can kiss themselves goodbye ... no eternity for them.
Judaism doesn't have the concept of salvation. That's a Christian concept. Judaism thinks that there are many paths to god and heaven and think other religions are equally valid. Some Christians think this, too. too bad some don't are bother everyone else with their version of 'Truth'. These same people almost always have next to know deep knowledge of any other religion so how could the possibly judge anyone else.
Revelation 2:9, 3:9
I'm sorry, Heaven Sent, but your posts only make me feel your ideas are not for me. Nothing you write feels like Truth. Nothing you write feels enlightened or wise and I don't believe what you believe. If you try to believe something you do not you will fail at it. I think your posts will push people away from your beliefs rather than win converts.
If the point of this article was to try to poke a few jabs at Mormans through the mouthpieces of others so as not to come across as liberal biased media, it aint workin'.
How about some candid interviews with a few of Reverand Wright's friends?
Mormon is nothing else but hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's crooks preaching and making claims from the book of hinduism, corruption of true Torah, reject of son of blessed Mary by hindu pagans of Egypt one th name of son of blessed Mary. Way of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters to hind humanity.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.