8:26 p.m. September 2, 2013

Cory Booker Gives Me The Silent Treatment

So, my big story about Cory Booker just came out in the latest NSFWCORP Print Edition. I've been working on this thing for over a month and am excited for it to start landing in readers' mailboxes.

But when all is said and done, I can't help feeling a little bummed. See, I had reached out to "media-savvy" Cory Booker for comment thinking that I'd get a response, but all I got was the silent treatment…

A bit of background: My article — "The Neocon, the Messiah and Cory Booker" — documents Booker's long and weird relationship with the Chabad-Lubavitcher ultra-Orthodox sect, a relationship that goes back to the early '90s, when Booker became an active member of Chabad outfits at Oxford and Yale. The connections he forged through Chabad provided him with a wealthy and powerful right-wing donor network that helped seed his political career and continues to play a big role today.

It's all very weird, especially when you consider that Chabad is a rabidly rightwing Hasidic cult that considers its dead Rebbe a messiah and pushes a regressive worldview that would horrify Booker's prog supporters: deep-rooted racism, violent Islamophobia, medieval positions on everything from abortion to homosexuality and women's rights, and a nasty tendency to normalize sexual abuse.

And as I explain in the piece, the Chabad-Booker relationship appeared to be more than a simple political alliance. Booker loved what Chabad was pushing so much, he studied with Chabad rabbis and now recites Torah portions from memory, helps Chabad fundraise and seems to genuinely share the sect's messianic worldview. As Booker told a room full of wealthy Chabadnik funders in Morristown, New Jersey, back in 2000, when he was a just a lowly Newark council member:

"...the reason why I say that I am humbled to stand before you is that I am truly empowered by the Lubavitch movement, and specifically by a number of Lubavitcher rabbis I have come to know over the last few years. They helped me take seeds that were planted by my elders, my parents and my grandparents, and nurture them in a way that allowed those seeds to flourish and blossom into the kind of work to which I have dedicated my life.

"Right now, I am on the streets of Newark, battling what I think is one of the most important battles in the city, in this nation, to try to make the spirit of God alive and well. As one of my rabbi friends told me—to try to truly bring about, through effort and sweat, or whatever necessary—the Messianic Era."

Trying "to make the spirit of God alive and well" and "to truly bring about … the Messianic Era?" What the hell was Booker talking about? I wanted to know.

And so I decided to reach out to Cory Booker's campaign and ask the man directly. I sent an email to Silvia Alvarez, Booker's Deputy Communications Director:

Dear Silvia Alvarez—

I'm a reporter from Las Vegas-based NSFWCORP doing a story on Mr. Booker's relationship with the Jewish community, and his interest in the Jewish faith/culture.

A couple of questions:

1) Cory Booker says he began studying the Torah and other Jewish religious texts with rabbis during his time at Oxford. I have heard him quote entire Torah portions from memory. Does he actually read Hebrew? Can he speak it as well? Does he continue to study with rabbis today? If so, who?

2) In 2000, when Cory Booker was a Newark city council member, he spoke at a Chabad event in Morristown and said: "Right now, I am on the streets of Newark, battling what I think is one of the most important battles in the city, in this nation, to try to make the spirit of God alive and well. As one of my rabbi friends told me - to try to truly bring about, through effort and sweat, or whatever necessary - the Messianic Era." What did he mean that by that?

Thank you for your help. I'm on deadline, so I'd appreciate if you could get back to me as soon as you're able.

Best,

YL

She replied the very next day, asking me about my deadline and reassuring me that "We will try and get you some answers to these." Then she disappeared. I followed up a week later, asking "Is there a reason why Cory Booker won't answer my questions?" To that, Silvia Alvarez shot back with a hostile "quit sweating me" type of response:

Yasha,

We just got your deadline on Thursday. The Mayor was in DC this past weekend for the march. Some of your questions are very personal and will need to get direct answers from the Mayor. We try to accommodate press requests as much as we can but there is also a schedule that we work around. We will do the best we can to get you answers.

Thanks,

Silvia

And then Alvarez disappeared for good. That's too bad. Because without Cory Booker's guidance, I had to fill in the gaps in the story with my own reporting and research. And the story that came out of that exercise really ain't pretty.

I won't spoil the fun. You can read the whole thing here: The Neocon, The Messiah, and Cory Booker…