When the rockets began and the terrorists infiltrated on Saturday, October 7 — beginning an attack that would end in the brutal slaughter of 1400 soldiers and civilians, the disemboweling of pregnant women, and the decapitation and incineration of babies — arguably the highest ranking American official in all of Israel was our own junior Senator Cory Booker.
The day was Simchas Torah, a festival that had been special to Cory ever since we met each other on that exact day 32 years ago in Oxford and danced on a table together with hundreds of other students. In the years that followed, Cory and I had always tried to spend Simchas Torah together, that is, until 2015 when Cory voted to give Iran $150 billion and legitimize their nuclear program. He thought that our very close friendship would insulate him against my public criticism.
He thought wrong.
I called a press conference with our governor at the time, Chris Christie, at Chabad of Rutgers and slammed his vote as aiding and abetting genocide, and Cory, wounded that his closest friend — a rabbi who had delivered hundreds of public speeches with him in synagogues across the world would attack him — skipped that year’s Simchat Torah celebrations at my community.
But even I could not have predicted the confluence of circumstances that would surround Cory’s vote to fund Iran.
I could not have predicted that eight years later on the exact day of Simchat Torah, the chickens would come home to roost while Cory was actually in Israel, in its capital of Jerusalem, jogging on its streets as 30 miles away to the south, Jewish women were being raped and burned alive by the Iranian proxy Hamas.
Even I could not have predicted that Cory would be in Israel — on a fluke, or should we say providence, as he had to give a speech the following Tuesday — at the very moment that the worst possibly fruition of his vote to fund Iran would be realized.
Even I could not have predicted that Cory would be there to actually hear the sirens as they blasted in Jerusalem, making him feel immediately imperiled.
And even I could not have predicted the precipitous fall of my once-closest friend in terms of courage, honor, and bravery. That he would immediately flee the country — leaving within 24 hours of the attack, no doubt having his staff pull strings to get a United States senator out of supposed harm’s way.
Or was it harm’s way?
Just two days later, Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, led a bipartisan delegation of Republicans and Democrats to the same city of Jerusalem in a show of solidarity with the Israeli people.
Just six days later, the most powerful senator of all, Chuck Schumer of New York, led another bipartisan delegation of senators that included the only female Jewish senator in the chamber, Jacky Rosen, Democrat of Nevada.
Cory was already in Israel. He would likely have known certainly that Ernst, and perhaps even that Schumer, planned to travel to the Holy Land.
Why did he flee? What was he afraid of?
Five of our nine children are currently in Israel, including two soldier sons in the IDF, Mendy, who is a reservist and was called up on his phone while he had just been literally called up to the Torah on that Shabbat-Shemini-Atzeret, and Yosef, 21 years old, trained as a combat solider in one of the IDF’s most elite units, and who is getting married in the last week of October. We also have our youngest son, Dovid Chaim, just 17 years old, in yeshiva there.
We do not think of ourselves as a particularly brave family and our children, of course, do not have anything like the kind of special protection in Israel that would be accorded a United States senator. Yet none of our kids even dreamed of asking us to come back home to the United States.
Our daughter Rochel Leah, who married an Israeli Chabad rabbi from Ashkelon in the middle of covid here in the United States and then moved to her husband’s synagogue in Lauder Hill, Florida, had never visited her in-laws’ home in Ashkelon since her wedding and was there for Sukkot with our son-in-law Rabbi Itamar. At 6:30 a.m. she awoke to a hellscape of bombs, mortars, sirens, and rockets. They spent the entire Simchat Torah shivering in a bomb shelter, hearing the desperate cries of victims on the outside.
Even she did not think of leaving Israel and is currently waiting for the rest of the family — me, my wife, Debbie, our three married daughters, and our 10 grandchildren — to travel to Israel this week for our son’s much-scaled-back wedding.
Are we afraid? Somewhat. Are we worried? Yes, but mostly about our sons in the army. Are we canceling going to Israel?
Should Hamas dictate whether IDF soldiers marry? Should Hamas, after murdering hundreds of Jewish children, dictate whether more Jewish children are born? Never. And should Jews fear these fiends? Well, it’s natural to be afraid.
But did we really come to back our ancient homeland after 2000 years of exile just to be afraid? And are American Jews, especially in the New York and New Jersey area, any less afraid, as we hear our government authorities advise us to shut down our synagogues last Friday night in fear of the Hamas global day of rage?
So why did Cory Booker, a United States senator with access to the most secure facilities and personnel in all of Israel, run?
Because the same lack of conviction that led him to repudiate everything he believed in, in terms of his special relationship with the American Jewish community that gave him tens of millions of dollars for his campaign, also led him to put his own safety first, just as he put his political career first.
It was I who arranged Cory’s first trip to Israel and, irony of all ironies, it ended up happening on the exact day that the Lubavitcher rebbe died in June 1994. I had to send Cory to Israel with one of my students as I now flew in the exact opposite direction, to the rebbe’s funeral in New York. A year later I took Cory to Israel myself, and he fell in love with the country and its people. But even those feelings of connection could not negate his political ambition to win the White House and his belief that he could not alienate President Obama, the first African-American president, on his signature foreign policy issue, the JCPOA, or what we all now know as the catastrophe of the Iran deal.
I pleaded with Cory not to support it. I told him that a country calling for the genocide of my people was the ultimate red line. I told him that Iran funds Hezbollah and Hamas, murders innocent people around the world, and is ideologically dedicated in words, speech, and deed to the annihilation of every Jew on the planet. Cory never disagreed with me. But the pleas of a friend versus pressure from the most powerful man on earth were never evenly matched.
I lost Cory’s vote, and Cory lost my friendship.
How strange it is, all these things now happening in New Jersey.
Just two weeks before Hamas broke 30 openings in Israel’s security fence and murdered 250 young people at a music festival on Sukkot, Israel’s greatest Democratic champion in the United States Senate, Robert Menendez, was indicted by the FBI for bribery and serving as a foreign agent for Egypt. Cory, who in 2017 had testified as a character witness for Menendez in his first corruption trial and said of him that he was “honest and honorable… when he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank,” this time decided to turn on Menendez and called publicly for his resignation.
I guess Menendez has now discovered of Cory what I discovered, what the Jewish community discovered, and what the State of Israel discovered. That Cory’s word is a bounced check. He almost always takes it back, and his commitment is not worth very much.
Menendez, who has the presumption of innocence, didn’t have 48 hours from being charged before Cory abandoned him. No doubt when Cory said earlier that you could take Menendez’s word to the bank, he meant Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch.
My own opinion is that rather than Jewry and Israel’s great friend Robert Menendez — who fought the Iran deal at great political peril — resign before he even goes before a jury, it’s Cory who ought to follow his own advice and resign from office.
After all, who did more harm to America? Menendez, who is accused of working with a foreign ally, Egypt, which fights the Muslim Brotherhood, or Cory, who voted to fund America’s foremost enemy who has just facilitated the murder of 30 Americans in Israel?
Yes, I know. One action was illegal and the other was not. But from a strictly moral perspective — and Cory is nothing if not someone who is always preaching to others about morality — $150 billion, which it would take Israel 50 years to receive in American aid — who then deployed the fungibility of that money to arm Hamas and murder Israelis, is infinitely, infinitely worse.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood is the author of “The Israel Warrior” and “Kosher Hate.” Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.