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Why Cory Booker’s Message of Social Civility Resonates


Cory Booker

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It has been painful for me to watch each side twist a very special man.

Cory is my brother. We are on different sides of the political spectrum. He is a proud and staunch Democrat. But few people have taught me more about being a good person than Cory. I remember once, when I went to pick him up from Queens College to go to Shabbat dinner back at Oxford, that I invited a Jewish woman to join us as well. She rudely ignored me. I felt hurt and barely said goodbye. For the rest of the walk, Cory lovingly rebuked me. “You’re not supposed to be a thermostat, Shmuley, reacting to your environment. It’s not about payback. You’re supposed to be a thermometer, creatingyour environment.”

So when a person who has a history of bringing people together says he is nauseated by the incessant, bitter political warfare, then perhaps we should all listen, rather than right and left using his remarks for personal gain.

What America needs most in the political arena are politicians who are just plain human. Who speak their mind without minute calculation. People who want to win, but not at any cost. Men and women who have a party, but who also have principles that transcends party. People who give credit where credit is due, even to an opponent, and who offer respectful criticism when it is due, even to an ally.

Now, to put my political hat back on, in New Jersey’s ninth congressional district where I’m running for office two democratic incumbents, Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell, are in the midst of a pretty bitter campaign. There have been many attack ads between them. Yet, they were, just a few months ago, longtime political colleagues and friends. They praised each other and supported each other. But fighting for the same seat can change all that. Fair enough. We’re all human. We all want to win. And who am I to judge? But they might learn from Cory’s example. It’s his ability to run for office without getting negative that has made Cory New Jersey’s most popular Democrat. People are tired of the constant political bickering. They gravitate toward integrity and unity. And as I run for office I want to emulate his special example.

Nineteen years ago, as Cory was completing his two year scholarship at Oxford and was in middle of his exams, my wife and I were blessed with a baby boy. The Jewish custom is that the night before the bris-ritual circumcision, the father of the boy stays up the whole night studying Torah, offering the child spiritual protection. I called around to the Jewish students but it was the middle of exams and no one could afford to stay up. I called Cory. He was in the same predicament. But he came straight over and stayed up the whole night studying Torah with me.

Fast forward eight years later, with both me and Cory now living in northern New Jersey. Another son, thank God, was born. The call went out to Cory. “It’s that time again, Cory,” I told him. “You and me, staying up the whole night. No excuses.” Though very busy with city affairs, he came straight over and we studied the whole night again. But then, six years ago, Cory was in the midst of his second mayoral race. Having lost the first, he was in the fight of his political life. Every second was precious. I called him up. “You know it’s our joint custom, Cory, pulling an all-nighter studying together. But I’m not going to ask you this time. The race is too important.”

Cory responded, “Shmul (as he calls me). You’re killing me. Why’d you even tell me. You know I can’t say no. But I’ve got this race and I don’t even have a second. Now I’m just going to feel guilty.”

“I know Cory, I know. I’ll have you in mind. I’ll be fine on my own (massive guilt trip).”

And with that I sat down to study by myself, the whole night, when suddenly, at about 1am, the doorbell rang. It was Cory. “Shmul, I’ve got exactly one hour. So let’s make it count.” We studied until 2am. He departed and a few weeks later won the election by a landslide.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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