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.”
The crimes of atheism have generally been perpetrated through a hubristic ideology that sees man, not God, as the creator of values. Using the latest techniques of science and technology, man seeks to displace God and create a secular utopia here on earth. Of course if some people – the Jews, the landowners, the unfit, or the handicapped – have to be eliminated in order to achieve this utopia, this is a price the atheist tyrants and their apologists have shown themselves quite willing to pay. Thus they confirm the truth of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's dictum, "If God is not, everything is permitted.
What does that have to do with this article, jimbo?
Did you just learn how to copy/paste or something?
the only law that we must follow are Gaia (natures laws), just try not sleeping or eating. see the price of that sin. let me help you = death,.. now try f4ck!ng a guy in the @ss see how you live for another day,... the price of sin is death you can sin against your god and not die but you sin against nature and you bit the big one
your gods morality is constructed by men and your god allow men to construct there own morality and become tolerant of their ways
your god did not create everything if he did we would not have a choice we would have to follow
Very much like my college experience, except we are a Muslim, Mormon and Atheist and there are no camera's.
For those who say these men's friendship is for publicity, that seems so sad and sheltered. The world is better off with all our diversity, if you think everyone should think like you or die, then you haven't really lived or lived long enough, in my opinion.
Nobody said their friendship was for publicity. We are saying that this particular get-together is an obvious media stunt on behalf of the two who are running for office.
I hope their imaginary friends got along alright.
A rabbi, a Mormon and a black Christian mayor walk into a room and say "Are the cameras rolling yet?"
I can't even believe this. If you people think this is somehow unique, you are crazier than I had even thought.
He must be a good jew if he is not alive
Mohammad A Dar, you really might consider taking a course on world religions at a reputable university. You seem to have learned about other religions and cultures from a hateful person or persons who knew nothing about the topic. Everything you post is hate filled, poorly written and inaccurate. It's nice when people have taken time to know what they are talking about before forming an opinion and before they spout off in public on a topic. Try it sometime.
Do you mean to be programmed in hinduism, ignorance, Do not worry about me, have some education, knowledge in truth behind, hinduism, corruption called religion's, rest assured, they nothing but based on hinduism, racism by corruption of truth absolute. Thanks, hinduism, denial of truth absolute of religions is for hindu gentiles , ignorant slaves of hindu Jew's, criminal self centered, secular s and cause of mayhem among humanity.
Yes, what you write doesn't make sense, is not factually accurate, shows hatred, and also shows that you have had no formal study of religions other than your own. To study another religion in an academic way at a reputable university or college can lead to seeing that the essence of most religious teachings are often times very similar, even if the way these religions are practiced can differ quite a bit. You have not done this yet in your life and your posts reflect only a foggy, incorrect idea of religions and people's other than your own, seeing yourself and your people merely as 'victims' and not ever aggressors. You might want to attempt to go with an open mind and learn. Try to see the world from the perspective of others. It doesn't mean you will agree with this perspective but you will see people as more than an enemy or other and stop dehumanizing them in your mind as somehow less than you.
"A rabbi, a Mormon and a black Christian mayor walk into a room..." sounds like the beginning of a joke you would tell at a party. Seriously, though it's great to see people of such different views and life experiences finding a way to be friends and to be respectful of each other. This by itself is a good example for the rest of us.
I'd like for them to do this without cameras. Privately show tolerance for each other. Eventually... we'd all see the love they have for each other. Unfortunately, as soon as the cameras were turned off, they ran away from each other to bathe away the stench of the others... The truth is... the freakin' hate each other
Religious friends who care so little about each others' eternal lives and salvation can get along very well.
It's the fact that we don't expect them to get along that makes this even a story. This isn't inspirational .. try to see the forest for the trees here folks, this is a sad statement about religion and the human race that this is a rare occurence.
Thanks Lilith, for not being the only one to see that. I mean really, since when did people of different religions not mingle? We have co existed for a few thousand years!
and "a good example for the rest of us" really? do you not have friends of different faiths? political views? ethnic backgrounds? because I think most of us do.
Then that is not a true friend at all.
although it was a very touching story, I am disturbed that it is a story at all. as if people of different faiths have not been loyal to each other historically. It seems like another story that tries to convince you there is a divide we must conquer, when in fact we are now more divided than ever. and in a way, spot lighting this story makes people believe we are much more divided than we really are.
I'm happy for you. You found eternal salvation in your Lord Jesus. Enjoy the solace it brings.
Please remember, the writings canonized in the Bible do not work for everyone. Some of us have tried, but cannot digest the way organized religion teaches these old scriptures. Some of us with geologic understanding cannot accept the 6000 to 10000 year age of Earth. We can't accept that dinosaurs are not in the Book. We cannot stomach a creation whereby to fill the Earth, they had to be incestuous. Then ... when God was not happy, he killed 'em all except one family. Then forced this family into incest.
I could go on, but why bother.
You are happy in your solace, the peace bestowed by true belief. I'm jealous of you. I wish I could accept the inconsistencies in -the way the holy scriptures are taught-
-the way the holy scriptures are taught- it's important because I don't think they are bad or evil. They are not taught properly... with open hearts and minds. I despise organized religion, not the scriptures.
I wish you the best.
Fuk HeavenSent, that miserable old bat. I didn't get ANY rain today. PRAY beeeeotch PRAY!!
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.
Clearly the bible tells us that more than 8 people entered in the ark. The bible has a habit when counting only counting the men. Throughout history many times women and children were not counted therefore the counts were always inaccurate.
Alien, you won't get any rain where you are heading ... better ask Jesus for forgiveness, ask Him that you can get closer to Him (meaning learn Truth by reading the letter He sent to all of us, the Bible), and of course, sin no more.
I Follow Christ . I never wanted proof. I just had faith.
HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness,” says the Lord (John 8:12). By these words
of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and
free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus
The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who
has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often
but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand
fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you
displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous
life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.
For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the
philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity,
except to love God and serve Him alone.
This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the
world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court
honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire
things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and
to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and
not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not
to look ahead where eternal joy abides.
Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with
hearing.”1 Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring
yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences
and lose the grace of God.
See for yourself. Like seeing a new colour. You can clearly explain it to anyone else
It is a lie. Grow up.
Just show me the GodFax.
Are you mentally disabled or lazy, or both of them, hindu, ignorant.
atheism should be purged from the planet.
There is something ironic about an insane person desiring to get rid of all sanity.
Sorry, bubbles but your 'kind' will float like the bubbleheads they are, only to pop and be no more, just like your god.
I know Jesus is Lord because it says so in the Bible and the Bible is true.
I have no reason to believe the Bible over any other religious text, but accept it as true based on my leap of blind faith, which makes more sense than any leap of any other religious person taking a leap of faith in their respective religions because their faith is not based on the Bible, which is true, because it says it is.
Ok, that circular reasoning argument is too obvious. Nice try troll.
That's right brother. Any time satan tempts me with critical thought, I just ignore it.
We Christians must stick together and blindly follow what the Bible says no matter what.
LOL, well done, you almomst had me.
Which bible you are talking about and when. there are thousands of versions of the bible, and they always revising the bible like God keep changing his mind according to the interest of the many authors Bible ,Bologna
@Jesus Christ is Real
"We Christians must stick together and blindly follow what the Bible says no matter what."
Blindly? Authentic Christians didn't go looking for God. He came looking for us and we know who it was that came calling. You scoff at which you know not. It was him that enabled us to believe in the first place. Without that it just ain't gonna happen.
Your assertions are false. The bible never changes. Learn the difference between dynamic equivalency vs formal equivalency.
Prayer changes things.
See it work at prolapsed.net.
Prayer changes otherwise rational adults into believing in imaginary friends.
I know because I am filthy. My shower is broken.
What is your point?
I think TBT is drunk, truth be told.
I like turtles.
Three grown men can play pretend but then put their imaginations aside so they can still be friends. Wonderful story.
• First Crusade: 1095 on command of pope Urban II.
• Semlin/Hungary 6/24/96 thousands slain. Wieselburg/Hungary 6/12/96 thousands.
• 9/9/96-9/26/96 Nikaia, Xerigordon (then Turkish), thousands respectively. Until Jan 1098 a total of 40 capital cities and 200 castles conquered (number of slain unknown)
• After 6/3/98 Antiochia (then Turkish) conquered, between 10,000 and 60,000 slain. 6/28/98 100,000 Turks (incl. women & children) killed.
Here the Christians "did no other harm to the women found in [the enemy's] tents—save that they ran their lances through their bellies," according to Christian chronicler Fulcher of Chartres.
• Marra (Maraat an-numan) 12/11/98 thousands killed. Because of the subsequent famine "the already stinking corpses of the enemies were eaten by the Christians" said chronicler Albert Aquensis.
• Jerusalem conquered 7/15/1099 more than 60,000 victims (jewish, muslim, men, women, children).
(In the words of one witness: "there [in front of Solomon's temple] was such a carnage that our people were wading ankle-deep in the blood of our foes", and after that "happily and crying for joy our people marched to our Savior’s tomb, to honor it and to pay off our debt of grat.i.tude")
• The Archbishop of Tyre, eye-witness, wrote: "It was impossible to look upon the vast numbers of the slain without horror; everywhere lay fragments of human bodies, and the very ground was covered with the blood of the slain. It was not alone the spectacle of headless bodies and mutilated limbs strewn in all directions that roused the horror of all who looked upon them. Still more dreadful was it to gaze upon the victors themselves, dripping with blood from head to foot, an ominous sight which brought terror to all who met them. It is reported that within the Temple enclosure alone about ten thousand infidels perished."
• Christian chronicler Eckehard of Aura noted that "even the following summer in all of Palestine the air was polluted by the stench of decomposition". One million victims of the first crusade alone.
• Battle of Askalon, 8/12/1099. 200,000 heathens slaughtered "in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ".
• Fourth crusade: 4/12/1204 Constantinople sacked, number of victims unknown, numerous thousands, many of them Christian.
• Rest of Crusades in less detail: until the fall of Akkon 1291 probably 20 million victims (in the Holy land and Arab/Turkish areas alone).
More victims listed by this idiot than there were people alive at those times.
I am not an idiot, I think. What do you think?
I think you are an idiot and you haven't got a single fact to back up any of your nonsense. You are a bore.
I seem to remember a passage in the bible where it says that Jesus was "very fond" of a particular young boy. Hmm....
A bunch of jews wrote the bible, anothe bunch keep rewritting it, What a joke, What the hell the bible is going to say next year, It might say Gays are HOLY
You've got a really big mouth for someone who's so ignorant that they don't even know dynamic equivalency vs formal equivalency in translating.
Prayer changes things ,
Prayer changes otherwise intelligent adults into believing in imaginary friends.
HeavenSent you old bag I gotsta have me some rain, now make with the praying God Dammit!
Filth is the common response to Truth by an atheist wanna be
I know because I am filthy. My shower is broken so I use my toilet instead.
Atheist is a fancy word for a self centered, in opposition to truth absolute, also known many other way, Secular, King, Roman, Gaul, Gangs, Jew, hindu or a pig, secular, self centered, take your pick.
No, deed in the way of truth absolute change things, No deed in good faith, No rewards. No passing exam, no graduation.Rest of it is hinduism, absurdity of hindu's, deniers of truth absolute in their hindu Judaism, filthy self center ism.
Prayer and action change things. Sound like these 3 guys have figured that out. If only the rest of us could.
Very interesting how Booker became president of L'Chaim which is now defunct, they have been investigated for a scam involving car donations where little if any money actually went to the poor. I personally had a car I donated driven illegally never being re-registered and abandoned in a NYC wetland area. Definitely something fishy going on there, money has a way of bringing different folks together for sure.
I went to a consumer research group, Boycott Watch – is therefore satisfied that the L'Chaim Society car donation program is a legitimate charity and is providing the services as advertised.
So maybe your experience was different?
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.