By now most readers know that Cory Booker and I met at Oxford University in England in 1992 and quickly became soul friends. Cory has many times retold the story of how, on our very first encounter on Simchat Torah, Judaism’s most joyous holiday, we ended up dancing on a table together at 2 am with hundreds of other students. The next morning we began studying Torah together, several times a week, and enriched one another with the experiences of our respective ethnicities and challenging history of our respective peoples. As a Rhodes scholar Cory ate at our home many weeknights and with my wife Debbie cooked “Kosher Soul Food” that gathered other Rhodes scholars, leading to hours of conversation. On Friday nights he would lecture to our students from the Torah we had studied together.
By 1993 I asked Cory to become the President of our Oxford University L’Chaim Society, which at that time was the second largest student organization in Oxford’s history with over 5,000 members. The request was seen by many in the Jewish establishment in the United Kingdom, especially my Chabad bosses, as insanity. A Christian president of a student organization? But I knew that Cory embodied the universal Jewish values that we were promoting better than many of our Jewish students. Cory accepted and together we hosted world leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev and financiers like Edmond Safra. His Presidency led to significant tension with my superiors and, when I refused to annul the membership of thousands of non-Jewish student members of which Cory was a symbol, I was eventually forced to resign my position.
After he graduated Cory called and told me he’s moving into our home over the summer so that the two of us could write a book together about the uniqueness of our friendship, an African-American Rhodes Scholar and the Rabbi to the Jewish students of Oxford University. It was an incredible summer and Cory became part of our family. Later, Barbra Streisand invited us to discuss producing a movie about our friendship. It was a time of serious tension between the African-American and Jewish communities – just a few years after the murderous Crown Heights riots – and America was looking for a story of black-Jewish healing. But Ms. Streisand’s writer had one problem with our friendship. Cory and I were simply too close. We were brothers and there was zero tension in our relationship. The story needed drama. The writer even suggested that we embellish the story with Cory dating a Jewish girl and my objecting.
Obviously, we weren’t going to allow any invention in our friendship, which continued to blossom and grow over the next twenty years with hardly a week going by without the two of us studying the Torah portion of the week together and spending countless Friday night Shabbat dinners at my home with Cory’s Newark staff. When I became Michael Jackson’s Rabbi, I brought him to Newark to help Cory launch a reading program for parents and kids. Cory and I spoke at countless Synagogues together and through these evenings, as well as my bringing him to speak at the AIPAC summit in Chicago, he won over significant Jewish donors to his cause, eventually becoming one of the largest recipients of support from pro-Israel donors in the United States. I arranged for Cory to travel to Israel, a country he has now visited three times.
But the tension that Barbra Streisand’s people could not find would later materialize over President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.
Cory is now a United States senator. I am one of his constituents. He loves Israel and is a darling of the Jewish community. But he is also a rising democratic star and is spoken of as a possible national leader. How could he possibly oppose President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, the nuclear deal with Iran? The strain has led to many tough conversations between us.
I consider Iran’s government a blasphemy against the peace-loving tenets of Islam. A regime that will slaughter its own people in cold blood over political protests. A regime that shot Neda Agha-Sultan through the heart in what Time magazine calls “probably the most widely witnessed death in human history”. A regime guilty of the abomination of hanging gay men from cranes in public squares, surely one of the great acts of savagery in the world today. And a regime singularly and publicly committed to the nuclear holocaust of six million Jews, and one million Arabs, in Israel.
Wherever I speak around the United States today Jewish audiences ask me, “What’s happening with your friend Cory? Why hasn’t he, like Senator Schumer, come out against the deal? He’s one of our community’s closest friends. We’ve always been there for him.” Many are not as charitable. “You duped us, Shmuley. You vouched for Cory. You persuaded us to get behind him and support him, promising he’d be the best friend Israel ever had in elected office.”
I explain to them they have to understand the kind of pressure Cory is under. The Administration surely knows that if the sole African-American democratic Senator, who is a great lover of Israel and the Jewish people, comes out against the deal, it’s game over. What will Jewish senators like Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut do then? What excuse would other supporters of Israel like Kirsten Gillibrand have if Cory came out against the deal? So they are subjecting my friend to a level of pressure that those of us outside of elected office can scarcely comprehend.
Rather than judging Cory, the Jewish community should empathize with the difficult choice ahead of him.
And still, I know that Cory will do the right thing. A Senator who vowed as Mayor of Newark that he would not perform any weddings until there was marriage equality in America would never legitimize a regime that murders people merely for their sexual orientation. A Senator who is at the forefront of demanding prison reform in America will not legitimize a regime that locks up countless political prisoners and is holding four American hostages, including Washington Post Tehran Bureau Chief Jason Rezaian. A Senator who taught me so much about the infinite worth of each of God’s children would never vote for a deal that would give Iran $100 billion to kill American soldiers and other innocents around the world. And a Senator who has enjoyed one of the warmest relationships with the Jewish community of any elected official in American history would never betray the Jewish community.
Cory Booker will not vote for a deal that will leave the murderous Mullahs with their nuclear program intact so that they can, in just a few years, carry out that their diabolical plan of murdering another six million Jews.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The London Times Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He served for 13 years as Rabbi to the Jewish students of Oxford University. He will shortly publish “The Israel Warrior’s Handbook.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.