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.”
Many people seem to forget that Mormons are Christains. And Christians and Jews share many of the same beliefs. We are all children of a wonderful Heavenly Father no matter what religion we belong to. We should always treat each other as brothers and sisters and always show love and respect. This article is a perfect example of how that is to be done. Enough with all the religious bashing and dirty talk. Rodney King said it best, "can't we all just get along."
Mormons are not Christians.
How are we supposed to "get along" with crazy people who insist on making everyone follow their schizophrenic religions?
No ,Mormons aren't christians ,their theology centers around Joseph Smith and their tenets are far into a myth of an angel ,golden tablets and secrets . Christianity is buildt on openness and the Trinity ,no golden tablets ,no angel in the woods and everyone is welcome to all services . Islam ,Judiasm and Christianity share common bonds but Mormonism doesn't share those . These mens friendships show us how we can forge friendships and build bridges of trust and respect of our cultural differences.
Insanity is not a cultural difference but is found in every culture. I refuse to respect insanity.
islam is very different from Judaism/Christianity.
islam and mormonism relies on a human being(prophet for its validity)
I have not seen any other Christian religion that wear "Magical Underwear", use electro shock therapy on their gay youth, have a history of discrimination (Blacks, Gays, Women) and claim that Jesus Christ appears to them personally. It all smacks of cultism.
The belief that an infitely old, all-knowing sky-god, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, will cause people to survive their own phsical deaths and live happily ever after in heaven, if they follow some laws laid down in Bronze Age Palestine = Judaism.
Judaism + a belief that the same god impregnated a virgin with himself to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to negate a rule he himself made = Christianity.
Christianity + a belief that aliens from other planets mated with humans who will one day be gods, that dead people live on other planets, that the Israelis colonized America and that magic underwear will protect you = mormonism.
I guess Mormonism takes the gold medal for completely ridiculous beliefs.
you seem to have cornered the market on ridiculous yourself.
And then there is you . . . the pessimist who wants to bring everybody down. Wow.
Typical Democratic simplistic nonsense. Democrats are the true flat-earthers.
the only thing about magic pajama's is that mormon men wear them at night. they are simply a set of "oneseys" pj's that have sorta cartoon figures on them. why do they "threaten you" dude? i'd be more worried about Hajis pj's that come complete with a kit to hold the suicide bomb! :p
Fantastic story! Great example of how we all need to get along. :)
An unrepentant Jew, a cultist and a so-called (Democrat) Christian is a story?
More then you realize. It's called an example of World Peace. It's an example of people of different religions focussing on similarities instead of differences . . . because they realize that focusing on the differences is devisive. Great story.
Being a bigot is old news, so we wont be seeing an article about you anytime soon.
So, ikenefson, being religious = being a bigot? So there's no such thing as being an anti-religious bigot?
Wow .....Another great story CNN.......Your ratings couldn't go any lower!
Prayer changes things
Insanity is not healthy for children and other living things.
Medication changes things.
I am astonished that your keepers have continued to allow you access to a keyboard. Get them to try different medications, sooner or later one of them may cure your addiction. Prayer changes nothing, PROVEN, because those of us that pray that you would just stop already......
Prayer only makes you look foolish. They need to tighten up your straightjacket so you can't type.
Loved this story. Made me smile on a Sunday morning.
Same here Michele, gives me hope that maybe the world may be a bit more tolerant and we can actually co-exist as a civilized society that is intellectually superior to a couple of 7 year old kids fighting over who's right or wrong. 'Yes it is', one say then 'No it's not' says the other falling into this vicious ignorant cycle.
It's when you are actually wrong that your lame apologist argument shows itself to be false.
The thing about being right or wrong is that it can be proven one way or the other and you do not get to make up your own "facts" out of thin air.
So you fail and show yourself a lying apologist here as well.
My, my Rock T, how did you get to be so sanctimonious? Is it right or wrong to be sanctimonious? Prove it! There are many things that cannot be proved scientifically, and don't have to be proved scientifically. Did your mother love you? Prove it scientifically! Oh, yes, you can cite anthropological studies and brain chemical studies. But your mother LOVED you and that's right and no need or way to explain it. Same with religion. God LOVES you, even if you don't believe in or love him back. Isn't it great to know you are loved? Accept this freely given love, just as you accepted your mother's unconditional love. No need to explain.
Rozelle, that would be great if it were real, but that so-called "love" from your imaginary god is imaginary. Tough ttties.
Trying hard to make Mormonism mainstream.
I wanna see magic pijamas !
All religions are BS, only degree and nuisance changes. Mormonism has extremely high concentration of BS in it.
You certainly have the right to believe religion is BS, then don't follow any. As simple as that. If you don't like a TV show then don't watch it. You don't need to get on the director's face about it. I simply don't understand the need to ridicule someone else's belief system. It certainly isn't making whatever you believe more valid. The fact that someone else got it wrong doesn't mean you got it right either, that's a fallacy.
Peacekeeper is a liar apologist who loves to pretend that religious people do nothing wrong and that we should let them do whatever they want.
How sick and disgusting to have someone pretend nothing has ever been done wrong by any group of people, especially religious people who are provably delusional, schizophrenic, and dangerous.
Rock T., religious people often do wrong things. Non-religious people often do wrong things. Some religions encourage people to do "wrong" things. Right and wrong can often be dependent upon culture. In some cultures it's right to bribe government officials to get something done. In other cultures it's a crime. Just depends on how you look at it. Christians use the Bible as a guide. Now before you go ranting on the Bible, remember that it has to be taken as a whole and in context. You can't take little pieces out of it and bend it any way you want to, and that goes for Christians as well as anti-Christians. People need to have a guide, something to set the moral tone. People like you use themselves as a moral guide. I'd rather rely on something a little wiser than that!
Rozelle, it is clear you have not read the bible thoroughly, so don't bother trying to use it to bolster your lame argument – it cannot be done. The bible is full of lies and crazy nonsense. You can't really use it as a guide because it contradicts itself several hundred different times in various ways...PLUS everyone in every religion interprets things differently, so you are pretty clueless to use texts that can be interpreted to mean anything you want to somehow provide support to your point of view.
When you get around to reading the bible, you'll see what I mean and might become an atheist. It's just made-up crap.
@Rock T - and it's even more clear that you haven't read the Bible entirely either. Or, maybe you've "read it" in the way students "read" required readings in school - i.e., superficially, in haste - but haven't really taken the time to understand, decipher, analyze, question, meditate.
If it's crazy nonsense and contradictions or what not, why don't you actually cite well reasoned examples rather than rhetorical rants. Examples based on an understanding of Biblical genre, the function of eyewitness credibility and jurisprudence in 1st century middle east, canonization, the relationship between old and new testament scriptures. I'm sure, had you done so, you would've raised valid issues for all together.
Instead, it's ad hominem all the way - but is it surprise, it's a CNN blog for pete's sake!
It's great that an Asian Buddhist is not a part of this BS!
Too bad they are not. They are certianly invited . . . along with our Arab Brothers. :)
As staged as a Cory booker "superhero" event
You realize this will be a punch line for Leno?
What do a rabbi, mormon and mayor...
I wonder if any of the people making negative comments here actually read the story. This story is about three members of our society with extremely different religious backgrounds and yet seem to be the best of friends. This is about tolerance and respect, not about trying to prove someone wrong by trashing on their belief system. The beauty of living in America is the freedoms that we are bestowed upon, including religious freedom. How about the hateful people trashing on either Mormons or Christians or Jews just leave it alone and go live your life the way you best see fit? The world would be a much better place if we just respected each other and took care of our own business. I'm sure the people criticizing someone else's religion live a perfect life based on their own belief system, right?
Ha, you can't even point to any time in human history when religious people were NOT intruding in the lives of everyone around them, so don't bother trying to make it sound like everyone religious "just wants to live and let live so you'd better let these guys do whatever they want".
Only apologists talk like that – liars, every single one.
@Rock T. – My comment was directed to everyone, religious or non-religious alike. I have no idea of what you're talking about apologists and liars. I could careless what you believe as long as it isn't illicit in nature. I think we all enjoy the freedoms we have in this country as far as freedom of religion goes. You may choose not to believe in anything, be an atheist and that's fine because we have the right to do so. Nothing good comes out of trying to destroy someone else's belief system. I see no difference between the religious person telling someone they are going to hell because they don't believe in what they do or an atheist telling the religious person they are crazy for even believing in such madness and then going on to ridicule their belief. We should all be more tolerant and respectful of each other, there are good people coming from all walks of life as there are bad people as well. Let us not generalize, not all Catholics are bad because some deviant preacher is a child molester (I'm not Catholic by the way). We are all individuals that make our own decisions and should be accountable for such. How would you like to be judged by what someone else did? Doesn't seem fair does it? Please don't go around making a blanket statement indicating all religious people are liars and go around intruding on everybody's life. Maybe you won't have the intellectual honesty to admit it, but deep down you know that's not true.
Since I did not make a blanket statement and did not say anything like you pretend I did, that just proves you're a liar.
No need to point at anyone's words but yours to show you are a liar.
And, no, I do not need to be tolerant of insane psychotic people or make any compromises that extend into insanity, so you can just go fck yourself.
Just ignore it, Peacekeeper. Rock T is 12 years old. He will grow up one day.
Since I am not 12, you are a liar and your ad hominem attack is plain for everyone to see.
@ Rock T., people like you are the reason we have so much contention and war in this world today. It's not about being right or wrong as we are free to decide which path in life we want to take. If someone wants to believe in aliens so what, that doesn't affect me, or whatever else they want to believe. You miss out on the whole reason America was founded. People that think like you persecuted the pilgrims and drove them to this land where they strive to create an environment where people could be free from tyranny. I don't understand why being tolerant and respectful is such a bad thing in your eyes. It's not either your way or the highway, life is much more complex than that and as you get older you will hopefully realize that. I realize I can't have an intellectual discussion with you because name calling just shows me you are intellectually immature and I can just hope someday you'll grow up and stop being such a hateful person. Hear me out, hatred will destroy you my friend. You keep referring to people being psychotic or insane and how you won't make any compromises, sorry but you're the one displaying borderline psychotic behavior, go get some help. None of this affects you personally and if you let it affect you somehow in a negative way then you have some serious issues. If someone believes any of the 10 commandments how does that affect you in a negative way? The world is not out to get you neither are religious people. Go get a life sir. Grow up.
never trust JEWS
That is just silly.
Trust but verify.
Oh you got that right, I learned my lesson, they will try to lie to get your money.
this is probably one of the most obvious staged get togethers in the history of man. what kinds of friends make jokes about each others relegions after 20 years of friendship? havent that got tired of such jokes since im sure theyve said similiar jokes to each other in the last 20 years.....anyways two words....PUBLICITY STUNT
YOU MUST NOT HAVE any friends.....friends make joke about each other 50 years later. the time really does not matter/.
Actually... It never gets old. I'm a Muslim, my wife is a Jew, and my best friends are Christian and Mormon. They have a mutual respect for each other and they don't try to change each others' views. We rip on each other all the time. My favorite joke is that when my wife and I argue, its like the Gaza strip in out bedroom.
I'm the only Catholic in my friends, there is also one Jew and one Hindu. We've known each other for over 23 years now and STILL the first thing any of us say to one another is some joke about the others religion. I second what the other poster said: you must not have any friends. That or you're just a troll.
Yeah, these "kinds of friends" are known more colloquially as "Dudes".
Talking smack is what Dudes do.
Come ye' to Kolob! All the magic underpants, Golden Plates, and krazy kolob kool-aid for you and all your wives!
I wonder if any of the people making negative comments here actually read the story. This story is about three members of our society with extremely different religious backgrounds and yet seem to be the best of friends. This is about tolerance and respect, not about trying to prove someone wrong by trashing on their belief system. The beauty of living in America is the freedoms that we are bestowed upon, including religious freedom. How about the hateful people trashing on either Mormons or Christians or Jews just leave it alone and go live your life the way you best see fit? The world would be a much better place if we just respected each other and took care of our own business. I'm sure the people criticizing someone else's religion live a perfect life based on their on belief system, right? "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (Matthew 7:5) Just saying.
It's funny when people pretend mormonism is any sillier than other religions.
I appreciate the thoughtful comments of Peacekeeper.
Reading tru dis article was interestin n fun, I was beginin 2 prepare my mind 4 a grt day wen it was somhow soiled by most comments on dis post. 1st am a memba of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saint, am black n leavin in Nigeria, av bin in dis church 4rm birth till now, I av served a mission.. Often @ tyms I feel sad seein ppl speak of how Mormons hates black how dis how d@.. Witout bein sufficiently humble 2 learn w@ d church truly teaches.. Here is an article speakin of d beauty of frndship witout borders n instead of us pickin d humor n d wisdom in it, we are here speakin of d inadequacies of d writer, or a religion is so sad 2 c d@ many American comprehension level is very low nt wit dis article bt wit as many av found online,despite d claim 2 b more advance dan Nigeria. Am black I could av easily said I won't relate wit any white bcos dia ancestors or many of dem demselves are racist n slave owners,dos tyms av past n I c evry individual as a child of God;male/female,black/white,bond/free d@'s w@ av com 2 undastand by my church teachins. The Church dos nt only exist ind US alone go 2 oda part of d world n c its impact in d lives of individuals. 4 a legit info I'll advice any 2 vist lds.org/mormon.org beta still speak wit missionaries.
Well put sir I'm Mormon as well and I agree with you 100%
You are my hero! Someone who can write in short form vernacular like that has to have a blog?
This, is what life and being human is all about. Makes me smile that these three men realize that its all about the friendship..
This is the REAL Shmuley Boteach.
I see our Schmuley is a sleazy schmoe from a sleazy schmoe family. I think he should be deported and his family with him.
How these people get these government contracts is probably unethical and illegal, although the laweekly article did not say.
Short sighted liberals.
Quiet fascist, this article is way beyond your comprehension.
What proof does carrsarit have suggesting there's no prophet after Jesus? (As)
@moussa, a better question would be where is the proof that there was ever a profit. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, no more no less. And his father was Joseph, who was a descent of king David
Jesus never claimed to be a prophet. What he claimed, about himself, are littered throughout the n.t. scriptures. He claimed to be God incarnate. Or, as C.S. Lewis rights, anyone who claims that is either a lunatic, or worse, or exactly who he said he is. A mere prophet he was not.
Jesus a jewish rabbi? Better yet where's your proof? I want refernces in the Torah that state this.
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.