David Gregory, former moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and currently a political analyst at CNN, cracked jokes, pulled at heartstrings and asked an audience of both young and old to consider profound, philosophical questions of faith inside a packed Krieger Auditorium at Chizuk Amuno Congregation on April 10.
The topic of his discussion, which was the inaugural event of the semiannual Phyllis and Louis Friedman community lecture, was the title of his book, “How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey.”
Chizuk Amuno Congregation Rabbi Ronald Shulman introduced Gregory, 45, who began his speech on a lighter note.
It’s a bit of a jarring question to be asked by the president of the United States. The question (how’s your faith?) resonated with me and stayed with me because I was thinking about what it means to really make that assessment.” — David Gregory, author of “How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey”
“Whenever I’m in front of a Jewish crowd, I like to say, ‘Yes, I am in fact Jewish,’” said Gregory, joking about his not-so-Jewish sounding last name and eliciting laughs from the crowd of 450. Gregory’s father, Don, changed his name from Ginsburg to Gregory while pursuing an acting career.
He also mentioned his recent appearance on the popular television game show, “Jeopardy,” where he managed to correctly answer, “What is a shofar?” (That episode will air the week of May 16.)
Gregory explained his new book’s title originates from his first time meeting former President George W. Bush at the oval office as the moderator of “Meet the Press.” Bush asked Gregory, “How’s your faith?”
“It’s a bit of a jarring question to be asked by the president of the United States,” said Gregory, who added that Bush was told beforehand that Gregory was studying Torah. “The question resonated with me and stayed with me because I was thinking about what it means to really make that assessment.”
He added that he personally admires Bush because, regardless of what one thinks of his policies, Bush “left office with his faith intact.”
From there, Gregory shared several personal moments of faith including discussions with his wife, Beth Wilkinson, a Methodist, best known as an attorney who successfully argued for the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
One moment that noticeably affected the audience was when Gregory discussed coping with his father’s impending death. Gregory was visibly distraught as he described moments of reading “Adon Olam” aloud to his father during one of his last days alive.
“I could see his eyes filling with tears as I was listening to him,” said Shulman, who was sitting on stage as Gregory spoke, after the event. “I thought it was a profoundly powerful moment of personal faith. He was able to share it with his father, and based on the [contents of the] book, [faith] was not his father’s interest.”
One of Gregory’s sons celebrated his bar mitzvah 10 days after Don Gregory passed away.
“[Gregory] spoke with warmth, humor and great poignancy about the rewards and challenges of a serious approach to Jewish faith within the context of an interfaith marriage in which both partners are committed to raising their children as Jews, while maintaining their own individual religious identities,” said Dr. Andy Miller, president of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
When questions came from the audience, a man, identified as David, asked Gregory, “What is it that will make your grandchildren Jews?”
Gregory responded that many younger Jews are not as drawn to religion as their older counterparts who connected through the events of the Holocaust. He encouraged the community to not shut out younger Jews who may choose practices like interfaith marriage and emphasized that although he has an interfaith marriage, he and his children are very religious in practice.
“I think [it’s important that we are] learning and modeling what we think is beautiful about Judaism,” said Gregory, “and not thinking that people and identity can be in and of itself the glue that holds the community together. That can’t be enough.”