Cory Booker, the Newark mayor who headed two Jewish student societies while in university, was elected to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate.

Booker, a Democrat, coasted to a win in a special election Wednesday to succeed the late Frank Lautenberg, defeating Republican Steve Lonegan with 55 percent to 44 percent of the vote, according to unofficial counts.

Booker, who becomes the only African-America senator, retains strong ties with the New Jersey and national Jewish communities, and also is close to pro-Israel groups.

He is not Jewish, but immersed himself in Jewish learning in his university days, heading Jewish student societies at Oxford and Yale universities.

Booker will serve out the term of his fellow Democrat Lautenberg, who died in June, through 2014. Booker has indicated he will run for a full term next year.

In a June column for Bloomberg News, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation between Booker and his daughter, who was then preparing for her bat mitzvah. “What’s your parasha?” the mayor asked.

When she replied that it was “Vayera” from Genesis, Booker proceeded to deliver a sermon about the lessons in that chapter about Abraham trying to save the sinful cities of Sodom and Gommorah.

“My daughter didn’t know quite what to make of Booker’s erudite and enthusiastic performance,” Goldberg wrote.” “Is he Jewish?” she asked later. No, I said. He’s a Protestant. “He knows a lot about my parasha,” she said.”

Booker has close ties with author and lecturer Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a resident of Bergen County. The two hit it off when Booker was studying at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar and the rabbi was an emissary of the Chabad movement on the campus.

“Possessed of an insatiable spiritual curiosity utterly unexpected from a star who has risen through the rough-and-tumble of Jersey politics, Cory is a man permanently in search of inspiration, to both discover and dispense it,” Rabbi Boteach wrote in a column posted on his website and on, reacting to Booker’s victory.