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.”
Progressives sicken me.
so your a status quo republican, who has it, and wants more, and will rob the poor to get it?
Damn the poor....if they would only get a Job so I could rob them blind.
Even crooks have stories to share!
I was going to say two delusional men and a crook.......but then couldn't figure out who was who in that scenario.
Two idiots pretending to be human.
Nice to see three diverse American's get along so well.
Too bad we all can't get along that way.
Are you open-minded enough to realize that your Mormon religion is utter bullshlt? Didn't think so.
You call for unity while being partisan and divisive with your religion, so get the hell out of here with your fake cameraderie, k?
How dare your false religion meddle in my politics and buy and election in my state of california!!!! Just say no to HATE! Just say no to christemdom, and the Mormons.
We could get along better if you guys would stop trying to use the government to enforce divisive religious dogma on non-followers. We don't need simple congeniality... we need to actually respect eachother as equals. I have no problem with LDS followers doing their thing, but when they feel the need to codify religious values so that gay people can't marry... well, you can't start with a foundation of disrespecting and marginalizing people and then
It's nice to see that an Asian Buddhist is not a part of this BS!
Ken, all law has a moral component. Those moral values have to come from somewhere. For many/most, that source is religion. For the rest, those who are not religious, they still have a moral value structure of some kind, which guides their view of what the law should be. On the issue you raised, gay marriage, there are many on both sides. Many religious people support the concept of gay marriage. Many who are not religious do not. In fact, there is a substantial number of gay people who don't agree with gay marriage.
Do you mean like when the Mormons killed all of those innocent men in the Mountain Meadows Massacre?
Rock for brains lacks knowledge and, therefore, goes negative.
Rock you are an ignorant person–get an education and if you can a heart.
Stories like this give me great hope. Here we have three men, of three different religious beliefs, and differing political views... and yet they have maintained a great and endearing friendship for all these years. This is real life, not what we are constantly seeing in the media or the hate that spews from Fox News. Modern day GOP and Tea Party allies should take note of this. Stop the polarization, learn to compromise, and appreciate the differences that make this country great.
I refuse to compromise with crazy people. If you don't like it, too bad you stupid schmoe.
Its so disappointing to see so many people's blind hate keep the from enjoying an article about a transcending friendship between 3 people who were raised world apart.
It is a well-written article, that's true, but it also glosses over and mostly ignores their underlying reasons for being openly "friends" ready for a bunch of PR pictures, especially when one of them is running for office.
See a connection here? This is a piece in support of the guy who is running for office, nothing more.
Now look at who wrote the article and which of these guys is running for office. See where this is going?
Wake up and smell the money being handed to other people in front of your face.
No, Rock for brains, they are genuinely good friends.
You just do not get that do you?
Evangelical Christians are hate mongers.
Clearly, you didn't read this article. Booker identifies himself as 'Christian.' And the term 'evangelical' or 'evangel' simply and literally means bearer of good news. I think you might need to rid your conceptions shaped by silly and reductive media narratives that frame evangelical christian as simply a denotative, political term. Nothing can be further from the truth.
No muslims are Tom.
the moral of the story is cronyism pays.
stand in line to get connected to the z i onist club if you wanna succeed". occasional black christians and mormons are welcome.
Cynical much? It's sad to see you mocking these guys, who, instead of tearing others down, are mature enough to respect their differences and appreciate each other as fellow human beings.
Reil lee: shut up and enjoy the story! This story is not about romney, much less politics.
Well – looking at the picture they don't seem too worried about anything. Is it possible that they don't really care but the people looking at the picture are reading way to much into it???
What a great article! What cool guys!
Ya – pretty much some cool dudes jus hangin out – probably making jokes about how the media is going to say ' A black mayor and a rabbi and a mormon actually walked into the same room and talked to each other. – LIke wow – does this not happen every day???
This article repeatedly refers to benson(the Mormon ) as "the mormon" does this or "the Mormon" does that. Yet the author does not say "the Jew" does this or "the Christian" does that . What's ups, does "the Mormon" not have a name, like the others?
Sloppy "reporting" at best. I wonder if CNN is confused as to why their ratings are suffering so.
I think they fired their real journalists and hired H1B's who'll work for dirt and interns who'll work for free... journalism has not been part of CNN for years now. Remember REAL coke?? it's like that... they took it away and NEVER brought it back... same with the writers here... they can't write their way out of a wet paper sack. sheesh.
"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.'"
We are too politically correct in this country sometimes. I'm glad all three of these men have senses of humor. :)
It's so rare amongst public figures, unfortunately.
Well said, thank you.
Wonder if romney would be the 15 propet but then again i believe in a non profit organization.
There's actually a very structured protocol for having a Prophet come to hold that office. Romney's not in line. It would be like saying Santorum is in line to be Pope. Not gonna happen.
And one last thing. Mormons are NOT Christians. By accepting a prophet after Jesus and adding what they consider to be holy material to the cannon they have negated the role of Jesus as the ONLY path to salvation. Any Christian who accepts Mormon is negating his own. Don't jeopardize your own salvation in order to be progressive!
Go to http://www.lds.org to educate yourself on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or as the world calls us, the Mormons. You are sorely misinformed, my friend.
Uhh...that's about the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Mormon's don't believe that the path to salvation lies on any path that doesn't go through Christ. We don't hold any prophet higher than Christ and we don't worship Mormon. Your preacher is lying to you about Mormons so you'll fill his pockets with money.
I'm not misinformed.
You have a prophet after Jesus and you have scriptures that you have added to the Christian canon. I don't need to know anything more about you. You are NOT Christians. You can't be. Constructionally you are more akin to Moslems.
But for earthly mattersI still prefer Romney way over Obama!
Maybe you aren't the one who's "Christian." Belief in that darn Nicene Creed disqualifies anyone as being a true Christian.
if you believe in the new testament you believe in prophets after Christ. That's exactly what Peter was after Christ ascended. He received new revelation to take the gospel not only to the house of israel, but to the gentiles as well as recorded in Acts 10. Also all of the revelations in the book of revelations were received after Christ had ascended by the apostle john. There is no scripture or recorded revelation that states that the prophetic line ended with Jesus.
If Jesus is the ONLY PATH to salvation, what happens to all those MILLLIONS of people who were born, lived, and died BEFORE CHRIST?
Are they ALL going to burn in hell?
@natural babe - I've actually done extensive, open minded reasoning and analysis of LDS, my friend and can't get over some very basic, problematic flaws: archaeological accuracy, historicity of your faith narrative, reliability of your post script texts, theological inconsistencies. Another fallout from this pc-culture - that people of different faiths can have intellectually honest critiques about the other, particularly if they're valid and well reasoned. Instead, too afraid to "offend" we just blindly accept.
No other two religious groups show so much hatred towards others, Black people, in particular, like two "M's; Muslims and Mormons.
Mormonism (the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints") has taught that the black people are "inferior" and are "cursed" by God. The Mormon leaders who have taught these things in the name of Christianity are revered as "prophets, seers and revelators" by their Church, and their plain words about these cruel, unscriptural teachings remain for the world to judge.
One of the Mormon prophets said the following:
"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." Journal of Discourses, Volume 10, page 110.
You want to know about mormonism? Please do follow the link:
You Zionists are gar more hateful then both.
You can go away now. Members of the LDS church are taught to love everyone. It was a great day in 1978 when all worthy male members were allowed to receive the priesthood.
I have no need to hear your toxic and hateful words. You are just plain wrong.
No religious group has been shown such hatred in America as the Mormons. I am quite frankly sick and tired of misinformation about the LDS church (the 'Mormons' for those who are too lazy to be informed to know that they are one and the same). One shows his depth and level of ignorance when misstating LDS beliefs and dogmas, and claiming hatred when there is no evidence to support it, and yet there is a mountain of evidence to support hatred directed at the LDS church. Go read a basic American history book, cognate the information and then repost your statement. Next time you get caught in a natural disaster I guarantee that the first responders along with the Red Cross (buddies of the LDS church) to save, feed, clothe and shelter your sorry butt will be the 'Mormons', so quit your bearing of false witness and complaining. Here's the official website of the church so that you may begin your education about one of the most influential organizations in the U.S. and the world: http://www.lds.org.
The "Blacks and the Priesthood" history for the Mormons is proof that the leadership of the Church will not lead the Church astray forever.....BUT.....it proves they can and will do so for a time.
Banning Blacks from the Priesthood was an unfortunate carryover of social and personal opinions.....not inspiration.
That quote is not LDS doctrine. It may have been the speaker's personal opinion, and, I suspect, largely based on western society's opinions of the mid-1800s. I have been a member of the church my entire life and was always taught at church that to look down on someone because of their race was wrong and that every person ever born is a spiritual child of God and that He loves all of us.
I love it when Mormons start saying, That's not doctrine (it was only the words of a living prophet preaching during General Conference, which makes it scripture). Well, the passages in the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham are still there, and you consider that doctrine, don't you? Granted, they did recently CHANGE the Book of Mormon passages about 'white and delightsome' but the BOM still clearly teaches that God curses wicked people by giving them a dark skin.
People are irritated and prejudiced against the LDS because you just seem incapable of telling the truth about what your prophets teach and what your 'scriptures' say. If it's embarrassing or silly, you just start lying about it not being doctrine, etc. Really, Mormons, most of us are much smarter than that.
@Denver, what you do not seem to understand is that not everything a church leader, even the prophet, says is scripture. Sometimes they are just giving their own opinions. This point was actually just repeated in the last General Conference. The two books you cited are part of our scriptural canon, the quote by Brigham Young is NOT part of that canon. His comments are much more in line with what was commonly believed in Western society during the mid-1800s. I will repeat that I have never, EVER, be taught in church that someone's race makes them inferior. I have ALWAYS been taught that we are all God's children, that He loves all of us, and that we can all receive salvation through Jesus Christ, regardless of race.
Pretending that bigot is a zionist is so amuzing. Did you two call each other and plot this scene?
A Rabbi, a Morman, and a Black Christan Mayor walk into a room........ sounds like the start of a bunch of great joke. Sorry I'm at a loss for this one but there must be some comedian that could finish it.
I love it. CNN has now come out as an affiliate branch of Deseret News.
*bwahahaaa! LOVE it!
test sub test sup
Why the h.eck would a jew even be allowed in politics... he should convert or be exported!
Coward, say that in real life or be silent.
Why should a christard be allowed in politics? The USA is a Secular Nation, thus it should not matter what belief or disbelief is in place...religion has no place in politics.
What a thinly veiled attempt at personalizing Romney. Religion aside, he's a faceless drone who cares nothing of the world unless it enriches his own.
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.