After inspiring a TMJ4 reporter, David Gregory to speak here | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

After inspiring a TMJ4 reporter, David Gregory to speak here


MILWAUKEE – ­­ When David Gregory, the CNN political analyst and former “Meet the Press” host, published a deeply personal book about his struggle with faith, it inspired a local television reporter.

Jonah P. Kaplan, who is leaving TMJ4 for a new position elsewhere, read the book, saw it as Gregory’s “holy, sacred choice,” and then worked to bring Gregory here for a visit. The result is that Gregory is to speak at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s 2017 Annual Campaign Kick-Off event on Thursday, Sept 15.

“I am a Jew, the product of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother,” Gregory writes in his 2015 book, “How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey.” “As my wife, Beth, and I talked about having children, we confronted serious questions about the role of faith in our lives, like many couples do when they start thinking about having kids. Beth grew up religious from a Protestant family.”

Jonah P. Kaplan

Jonah P. Kaplan is joining ABC News at a television station in Raleigh, North Carolina to work as a political and investigative reporter. He starts Sept. 20.

With their choice to “be a Jewish family,” Gregory writes that he realized he’d have to lead and he’d therefore have to do some self-discovery. He’d have to more deeply understand Judaism and his own faith.

Gregory’s book, named for a question President George W. Bush once startled him with, tells the story of his journey “to find a relationship with God.” He reaches out to leaders from various faiths along the way. At least part of his journey takes place after Gregory was replaced as the host of “Meet the Press” in 2014, after a drop in viewership. In his book, Gregory acknowledges the loss of his job as humiliating and a test of his faith.

“For me, the question is, where is God? And my belief is that God is close,” Gregory told Jeffery Goldberg for a 2015 piece in The Atlantic. “And I actually believe at the core of Judaism is God’s love for us and the request of us as Jews to love God completely — with our heart, by following His commandments; with our head, by studying and wrestling with His commandments and His laws; and with our hands, by our deeds in the world.”

Gregory also tells Goldberg that a lot of Jews make Israel the centerpiece of their Judaism, that it becomes the centerpiece of their Jewish existence and of their faith. “I have always felt that that’s not for me,” Gregory added.

“Look, I believe that a focus on Israel’s existence, and on remembrance of the Holocaust, are very important, and they go to this question of whether the Jewish people will survive,” he said. “And as a person of deeper Jewish faith, I now think — even today differently than a year ago—more deeply about the responsibility here, about what am I doing to contribute to the survival of the Jewish people. Am I doing a good enough job myself? Am I doing a good enough job for my family, in teaching my children? Because that’s very important to me. As a Jew I recognize the importance of Israel historically, liturgically, its place in our history and in our sacred texts. I fully recognize and appreciate that. I just think that, for me, a sole focus on Israel gets in the way of the pursuit of a relationship with God and a more spiritual existence within Judaism.”

“How's Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey.” $26. Published in 2015.

“How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey.” $26. Published in 2015.

During a phone interview, Kaplan scrolls through his email to find where he saved the above quote, part of what inspired him to work to bring Gregory to Milwaukee. Kaplan, who starts a new job in a different city this month, read Gregory’s book and was deeply touched by it.

“I’ve chosen not to be a rabbi, but I’ve chosen to be a journalist. Knowing that I made that choice, how do I still ensure the survival of the Jewish people?” Kaplan said in an interview, echoing Gregory. “What am I doing to contribute to the survival of the Jewish people? Am I doing a good enough job myself?”

Kaplan feels that Gregory brings up thoughts that get too little attention or respect in Reform or religiously liberal Jewish circles. For Kaplan and Gregory, Judaism has an awful lot to do with God.

“Somehow when you bring up God … everyone acts like you’re getting too preachy,” Kaplan said. “It was a message that I hadn’t heard from anybody.”

After Kaplan and others in the local Jewish community became interested in Gregory and his message, Kaplan reached out through a mutual connection to get Gregory on the phone and to bring him to Wisconsin.

With “Meet the Press” and his six years as NBC’s chief White House correspondent behind him, Gregory has been critical of presidential candidate Donald Trump in his role as a CNN analyst. He tweeted in July, “It’s one thing to avoid sounding like a politician but it’s clear Trump speaks without thinking through the issues.”

Kaplan, who is co-chair of the Campaign Kick-Off event with Linda Marcus, plans to come back into town for it. He expects that Gregory may talk about his faith, his journey, being part of an interfaith family and political issues today.

* * *

How to go

WHAT: Milwaukee Jewish Federation Campaign Kick-Off, with guest speaker David Gregory

WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee

COST: $18, with discounted parking and dessert reception (dietary laws observed)

ALSO: Signed copies of Gregory’s book, “How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey,” will be available for purchase

RSVP: By Sept. 8.