The Washington Post has an interesting piece today about how Cory Booker became close friends with a Hasidic rabbi during the early 1990s while he was Booker was studying at Oxford.
Booker, while remaining a Christian, became co-president of a Jewish group on campus. The two had a close friendship for two decades until falling out over the last few years.
From the piece:
The Jewish festival of Purim was in full swing: Music was blasting, family and friends were bouncing to the beat, and 6-foot-3 Cory Booker was laughing and dancing while carrying a 5-foot-6 Orthodox rabbi in a clown suit on his back.
It was March 1993 at Oxford University, where Booker, then 23, was studying for two years on a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. The man on his back was Shmuley Boteach, an American rabbi who was his close friend and spiritual mentor during what Booker describes as a “profoundly shaping” period of his life.
“My spiritual life really took off at Oxford, and just so many things about that experience were profound to me,” said Booker, who credits the Rhodes program with nurturing the politics of “common ground” and “love” that he now espouses as a Democratic presidential candidate.THE PURSUITFirst in a series on the 2020 presidential candidates.
Booker’s intense and unlikely friendship with Boteach, who was sent by the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect to establish a presence at Oxford, was a main pillar of his time in England, from 1992 to 1994.
The two men in their 20s seemed to be always together — often with Booker in a yarmulke and Boteach in a Malcolm X baseball cap — and were energized by each other’s outsize charisma and shared passion for religious study, according to interviews with them and more than a dozen people who were close to them at Oxford.
Booker, an African American Baptist, became co-president of the L’Chaim Society, an Orthodox Jewish student group started by Boteach.
They spent virtually every Friday evening together with other students studying and debating Torah and often eating “kosher soul food” cooked by Booker and by Boteach’s wife, Debbie.
Judaism became a lifelong passion for Booker, and he still quotes Torah passages he learned from Boteach, in Hebrew, from memory on the campaign trail. But after two decades, Booker, 50, and Boteach, 52, are no longer on speaking terms.