How we met: Uri Geller & Rabbi Boteach

The Sunday Review

2nd May 1999

Uri Geller, 53, is renowned for his spoon-bending psychic powers. He has been hired by the FBI and the CIA, and often acts as a ‘Mindpower’ coach to footballers, industrialists and Formula One racing drivers. He writes magazine and newspaper columns, and is the author of 10 books. He lives in Berkshire with his wife, their two children and five dogs

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, 32, came to Oxford from America in 1988 and established the L’Chaim Society for Jewish students. It is now the second largest student organisation in Oxford’s history. He has become one of Britain’s most improbable sex gurus, having written three books on the subject. He lives in Oxford and London with his wife, Debbie, and their six children

Uri Geller & Rabbi Boteach

URI GELLER: You expect a rabbi to be older than you, so my first impression of Shmuley was how young he looked. We’d both been asked to take part in a debate on the power of prayer during Jewish Book Week. I knew of him by repute – I’d heard him described as the Moses of Oxford. We said our bits, then invited questions from the audience, and I asked Shmuley some questions myself. I’m forever struggling with the ultimate question … if there is a God, why is the world full of hungry children, why are there people suffering and dying in wars? Something clicked between us, it was friendship at first sight. In some ways he reminded me of myself as I was 25 years ago.

I was born a showman. I have no entourage of image-makers, no PR company promoting me. I’m just myself. Things have happened naturally to me. I think Shmuley is similar in that respect – he has a natural magnetism that attracts people to him. I understand his need to be centre stage. Shmuley is powerfully endowed with wisdom. Some of it comes from reading the Talmud and the Bible, but there is also some kind of universal knowledge he can tap into. He has made me aware that I have to invest more of my thinking in Judaism. I’m a religious man, but I’ve always thought of God as outside us, touching us with his energy. Shmuley believes we all have God within us. We’re writing a book together, based on letters we’ve exchanged over the past six months about faith, family, the future of the planet. It’s amazing what has come out in these letters. One of the biggest regrets of my life is killing a Jordanian during the Six-Day War. I have recurring nightmares about it, and I’ve never really spoken about it. Revealing it to Shmuley in these letters helped me to deal with it. It turned out that he once witnessed the killing of a policeman in Florida.

Shmuley and I may not get to see each other as often as we would like because we both lead busy lives, but we talk on the phone a lot, I love to hear his voice.

I don’t believe you have to see your friends frequently to sustain the friendship. You can be separated by a continent or an ocean and still keep that spiritual bond.

There was a time when he was very down because of the adverse reaction among the Jewish Orthodoxy to his book Kosher Sex. He really sounded lost. I called him two or three times a day to cheer him up. He doesn’t really take care of himself – he doesn’t exercise and he smokes big cigars. The age gap has never been an issue with us. Somewhere in my heart and mind I never grew up: I still feel like I’m in my thirties. My view is that if you keep your body in shape and your mind tuned, you can slow the ageing process.

Shmuley is a naturally humorous person. He likes to make people laugh. I’d really like to get to know him better before he shaves off his beard and becomes a stand-up comedian. With my psychic powers, I predict that some day he might just do that.

SHMULEY BOTEACH: I got a call from the Jewish Chronicle asking me if I would share a platform with Uri Geller. I’d known about Uri since I was a child growing up in the States, Jews have no problem with what Uri does, we accept the power of the paranormal. I met him for the first time half an hour before the lecture. I didn’t ask him to bend a spoon or anything – I wanted to treat him as a human being, not as some kind of curiosity Firstly, I was amazed at how youthful he looked. Then I was struck by the fact that he’d brought his wife and son along with him. I’m always moved by people with a strong sense of family, especially if they are achievers. We struck up an instant rapport. I liked the fact that he was completely unpretentious. He is incredibly warm and caring, I never think of myself as a terribly good person, so I like to surround myself with good people in the hope that it will rub off.

Uri is known throughout the world for the power of his mind, but he really has a far more powerful heart.

He exudes warmth and kindness to the degree that a lot of people suspect he has an ulterior motive. He doesn’t. He really cares about people. My kids adore him – they love chatting to him on the phone.

My job requires me to know a lot of people, and one of the things that I lament is that I’m beginning to have a lot more acquaintances than friends. As a rabbi, a lot of people come to me for counselling, and I enjoy that, but you’re always playing a role. A friend is someone you can be totally natural around. When my book Kosher Sex was published last year it created a furore in the international Jewish community, Uri called me a lot to keep my spirits up. He was a phenomenal pillar of support.

We have insecurities in common. We both had an unhappy childhood. Uri was raised in abject poverty, my parents divorced when I was eight and my mother brought up five children on her own. One of the ways of dealing with an unhappy childhood is to ensure that something good comes from it. We both want to make a difference with our lives. Uri feels very strongly that he has something special to offer.

The idea of the book we’re working on is to look at spirituality from our different perspectives – me from the viewpoint of a believer in the world’s oldest monotheistic faith, Uri as a guru of New Age thinking. There is no hidden agenda, we’re not using each other. Our kinship is based on being unconventional and not completely understood, I look to him as a mentor, but the age gap between us is irrelevant. I’m the older man in the relationship. Uri is much more youthful than I am. He gets up at the crack of dawn and goes for a five-mile walk. My idea of exercise is lifting a fork while I’m having dinner.

‘Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments’, by Rabbi’ Shmuley Boteach, is published on Thursday. ‘Dead Cold’, a novel by Uri Geller, is published on 20 May



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