Mayor Cory Booker: “Use Your Faith to Help and Inspire Others”
On the evening of May 8, students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the greater Yeshiva University community filled Lamport Auditorium to hear Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, discuss “The Role of Religion in Education and Public Life.” The event was the final installment of this year’s Great Conversation Series of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought.
The conversation—led by Straus Center Director Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik—bounced around from discussing how Booker’s personal faith influences his daily life, issues regarding the importance of improving education, and the nature of faith in the public square in America. Throughout the conversation, the mayor sprinkled his words with pointed anecdotes, quotes of important figures like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, and—to the crowd’s delight—passages from biblical and rabbinic literature in English and in Hebrew.
YU President Richard M. Joel introduced the event, noting that Booker has been an official alumnus of the University since he received an honorary doctorate at the 2010 Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation. “I am proud to welcome Mayor Cory Booker back to Yeshiva,” said President Joel. “I find the mayor to be one of those people in this world who profoundly matter.”
Booker opened by discussing how his faith “is the core of my being,” he said. “It is how I orient myself to all things. Faith can help us find ways to help and inspire other people.” He went on to deliver a dvar Torah, comparing how Adam and Abraham responded to God calling on them. Booker spoke with awe as he described how Abraham announced the Hebrew word hinneini [here I am] and how Abraham would eventually argue with God regarding the imminent destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
“From this story I learned the importance of standing up before God and saying, ‘here I am,’” said Booker.
The mayor described how his study of the Bible influenced his world outlook regarding religion. He recited a recent post of his on Facebook that neatly summed up his ideology: “Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don’t tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all God’s children. Don’t preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I’m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
The conversation then turned to education. “To deny someone an education is a sin,” said Booker. “Every time we lose a child to a poor education, we all are brought lower by it.” The mayor continued by describing his many efforts in finding ways to improve the school system in Newark and other lower income areas of the country. He said that he has been quite happy with the educational initiatives of President Barack Obama saying, “I give him an A, but an A equal to 90%. We still have a way to go until everyone in America has the education they deserve.”
The event featured a few moments of levity as the mayor spoke glowingly of his mentor in all things Jewish, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who arrived a little late to the event. Early on, Booker inquired if Boteach was in attendance. When informed that Boteach had not yet arrived, the mayor responded, “Good, then we can talk some lashon hara [gossip] about him.”
To close the event, Soloveichik asked the mayor if he could offer any advice to the many future YU graduates in the audience. Booker responded, “Go out and be ethical people. Teach and live your faith.”
“Cory Booker is inspiring,” said Stern College for Women alumna Adina Schwartz. “When I heard he was speaking at YU, I had to see him in person and he did not disappoint. He was smart, funny and offered some valuable insights.”
The evening closed out the Straus Center’s academic year that included conversations with Senator Joseph Lieberman, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom and former United States Attorney General Judge Michael Mukasey. In an interview prior to the event, Soloveichik announced that “great conversations with significant public figures are already planned for next year.”
Learn more about the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at www.yu.edu/straus.