Newark Mayor Cory Booker Tonight on Reverend Jeremiah Wright: It Hurt Me Very Much What He Said About America

Just returned from an AIPAC Manhattan Club dinner at which Newark Mayor Cory Booker spoke. He told many inspiring stories about his efforts to revitalize Newark and make it safer. Apparently it is the city with the greatest reduction in crime in 2007.

Those of us who have followed Mayor Booker’s career know his ascension is no accident; he is a truly brilliant and principled man with great passion to improve life for his fellow Americans of all races and religions. Tonight he spoke of his close friendship with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the Orthodox Jewish teacher and author of “Kosher Sex.” (The two met as students at Oxford, where Booker became president of the L’Chaim Society, a Jewish student center on campus. Yes, that’s right, Booker, who is black, chose to be president of a Jewish student organization).

Throughout his career as a city councilman and Mayor of Newark, Booker has not merely preached the virtue of bringing together people from all walks of life and backgrounds, but has lived this vision. Tonight he recounted how, as a city councilman in Newark, he was faced with the task of confronting drug dealers who had taken over a public housing complex.

Frustrated by the seemingly intractable problem, he went to the Bible for inspiration and found the following instruction: build a tent, pray, and fast. That is what he did, but not before confronting the drug dealers and telling them he was not going to move or to stop fasting until they left the community to its law-abiding citizens. He underwent his hunger strike and prayer vigil there at the drug-ridden and crime-overrun complex, and soon others came out to join him: prison guards who told him “we’re not going to let you sit out here alone,” gospel choirs, NYU students, and rabbis, ministers, and members of local congregations. Jews, Christians, blacks, whites, Latinos–all united and praying, peacefully protesting and standing up for the innocent members of a community under siege.

Booker recalled for the crowd at AIPAC tonight how he also confronted the media about their scant attention to the lives of people in poor areas at the mercy of the lawless, and caught in swamps of “concentrated, unyielding poverty.” He told them, “This is the United States of America. How can we live like this? I challenge you to interview these people.”

In that way, he prompted more media coverage of life in Brick Towers, the housing project where he labored to promote increased safety and livability. As a result, the policing of the area increased and the drug dealers, at least for a time, moved on.

Booker peppered this amazing story with spiritual references, “The greatest power G-d gave us has nothing to do with titles,” he said, referring to people’s quest for power and influence in life. “The greatest power G-d gave us is to manifest divinity within our own lives.”

At the end of the evening, when the audience had the opportunity to ask questions, a young woman asked him how he felt about Jeremiah Wright’s recent incendiary remarks. Regrettably, I couldn’t hear his entire response, but he concluded with, “It hurt me very much what he said about America.”

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