Newark Mayor Cory Booker came to Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick Nov. 14 to share his vision of tikun olam, or repairing the world, as leader of New Jersey’s largest city.
Interspersing Hebrew words with expressions of Jewish values and support of Israel, Booker urged his audience to battle economic injustice and overcome the “toxic resignation” of those who have given up on battling poverty and its effects.
“Too many people accept things as they are or refuse to take responsibility to change them,” said the mayor. “Judaism says you must do mitzvot to make this world better…. The Jewish ideal is the American ideal that we can make this a more perfect union.”
Booker spoke of his city’s challenges, including a dire financial situation, as well as its gains. He said the city has seen a dip in crime, and praised Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for his gift of $100 million to the city’s schools.
The 41-year-old Booker recounted the by-now familiar story of his leadership at the L’Chaim Society at Oxford University in England, and his relationship, as an African-American Rhodes Scholar, with Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
Booker spoke of the civic spirit among Newarkers even in the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods, from the elderly woman who sweeps her entire block every day, to the retiree who cuts the weeds and grass near Weequahic Park. When others in the neighborhood joined the latter effort, the drug dealers who used the area as a haven were forced out.
Citing the Jewish imperative to bring justice to the world, Booker said, “I have the privilege every day of watching Newarkers have this faith and sense of justice.”
Booker urged members of the Jewish community to take part in Newark’s revival.
“It is the small individual things: the acts of kindness and justice, the different acts of tzedaka and hesed that make change,” said Booker. “I challenge the Jewish community.”