More than fifteen years ago, a Rabbi and a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University began a conversation that would one day inspire the values of communities worldwide. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach first garnered world recognition through his founding of the Oxford L’Chaim Society, an organization of students that, within three years of its founding, had become the second largest student organization in Oxford’s history.
As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Cory Booker attended a L’Chaim Society meeting and was seated next to the 24-year old Chabad rabbi, Shmuley Boteach. Unlikely companions, the young Baptist from New Jersey and Oxford’s rabbi of more than a decade discovered a deeply shared belief in the power of diversity and tolerance to influence meaningful change.
Their collaboration and close friendship at Oxford, which was reported on by the world’s media, was a powerful example of the tremendous possibilities that result when people not only embrace racial, ethnic and religious tolerance, but go beyond tolerance to find mutual enrichment. Booker remained active in the L’Chaim Society and eventually became its co-president, hosting with Rabbi Shmuley some of the world’s most influential thinkers, statesmen, and entertainers including Mikhail Gorbachev, Professor Stephen Hawking, Shimon Peres, Deepak Chopra, Benjamin Netanyahu, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, and Prof. Colin Blakemore, among others.
Booker and Shmuley would talk frequently and exchange books — W. E. B. Dubois, James Baldwin, and Cornel West for Hillel, Maimonides, and Eli Wiesel — and Booker was able to fulfill what mentors at Stanford had told him about his own religion, that “to be a real Christian you need to understand the true meaning of Judaism.”
Booker and Shmuley’s close friendship evolved and continues to influence change among individuals, families and entire communities. Booker took the oath of office as Mayor of New Jersey’s largest city on July 1, 2006 following a sweeping electoral victory. Under his leadership, Newark has experienced radical transformations with a 40% reduction in violence and unprecedented development of urban infrastructure. Rabbi Shmuley has been called by Newsweek magazine ‘a cultural phenomenon and the most famous Rabbi in America’ and is regularly chosen as one of the most influential Rabbis in the world. An international best-selling author of more than 20 books, Rabbi Shmuley is also the host of TLC’s award-winning relationship repair show, ‘Shalom in the Home.’ He was Oprah Winfrey’s marriage and parenting expert for a full year on ‘Oprah and Friends’ and was awarded the American Jewish Press Association’s highest award for excellence in commentary for his weekly syndicated column.
At the podium, the two close friends, both mesmerizing speakers, bring their passion for social change to audiences, sharing stories informed by individual and shared experiences. Together they demonstrate the need for communities to embrace social values that extend beyond simple tolerance, encouraging a lifetime of enrichment through difference. Both internationally admired academic scholars, the Mayor and the Rabbi ardently discuss the state of democracy and government’s role in establishing stronger cultural and family values. They inspire audiences to explore the deeper meaning of a life of purpose, empowering people to find meaning through social responsibility.