Funny, Brad Greenberg Doesn’t Look Christian
It’s not surprising that a major Jewish newspaper would have its own “God Blog.” One might be surprised, however, upon learning that a Jewish newspaper’s “God blogger” is a church-going Christian. And one certainly wouldn’t expect said Christian to have a last name that starts with “Green” and ends with “berg.”
Meet Brad A. Greenberg, 25-year-old staff writer for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. He was hired on at the Jewish Journal in May, following stints covering the religion beat for the Los Angeles Daily News and the San Bernardino County Sun, bringing along his God Blog (recently named by Times of London faith columnist Libby Purves to her list of the 30 most influential religion blogs). Since joining the Journal, Greenberg has tackled stories ranging from an investigation into Hollywood’s Jewish giving habits to a colorful front-page profile of porn-and-Judaism Internet gossip Luke Ford.
Recently returned from a reporting trip to Israel — his first visit to the Jewish state — the self-described “God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks” chatted with the Forward about his unusual background and what it’s like being a Christian working in the world of Jewish journalism.
So your name is Brad Greenberg, you’re a staff writer at the Jewish Journal and you’re a Christian. How did that happen?
I grew up in San Diego. My mom came from a Catholic household, and my dad came from a largely secular Jewish household. They got married with really no religious leaning. And when I was 5, 6, 7 — I don’t remember exactly when — they both kind of met at Protestantism. I grew up going to a kind of traditional evangelical church. And it wasn’t actually until college that I even realized that I was actually more ethnically Jewish than I thought. My mom’s mom had also been Jewish but had converted before she married, and my mom didn’t even know that until she was about my age now.
How did you wind up at the Journal?
I was out at the L.A. Daily News. I was a general assignment reporter there, focusing mainly on religion, which was a position I had created for myself at my previous paper, the San Bernardino Sun. It’s something I’ve always had an interest in. And I met [Jewish Journal editor] Rob Eshman at the Skirball Cultural Center back at the beginning of the year and didn’t think much of it, except for the fact that he’s a good guy. A few months later he sent me an e-mail out of the blue and asked me if I’d be willing to meet with him for lunch. I had just recently started The God Blog and had been doing a lot of stories on the Jewish community. And they were in a transition time and were looking for somebody who could be both a big-issue reporter and a blogger. I was, of course, concerned that my Christian faith would be a deal breaker, so I warned Rob. He didn’t share my concern — that is, as long as I wasn’t looking to use the job to proselytize.
You describe yourself on your blog as a “God-fearing Christian.” What does that mean?
To me that means that I’m somebody who believes in the Bible as the word of God and somebody who believes specifically in the divinity of Jesus and that Jesus was the Christ. It’s something I am upfront about because I don’t want it to be some kind of secret that comes out in forms of rumor or innuendo. I put it out there because I think it’s important that people know that this is what I believe, and that it’s not something that affects me as a journalist.
Do you consider yourself Jewish?
My answer to that question often has a lot more to do with the person I’m talking to. I consider myself Jewish, but I don’t expect everybody else to. I don’t consider myself religiously Jewish, and I never pretend to. I consider myself ethnically Jewish.
Do you feel a certain empathy toward other Jews?
Certainly. That’s part of my identification as being ethnically Jewish. I feel very connected to large parts of the Jewish community for multiple reasons. One, intellectually, I think I’m very Jewish, and socially I think I’m very Jewish. I think like a Jew. I care about the world in a lot of ways like a Jew — which I think at the same time can be in a lot of ways like a Christian. But I really, really empathize with the Jewish plight of history.
Do you feel like that story is your story?
There’s no way that the story of the Israelites and Jews historically is not my story, because until my parents, it was my family story.
Has your background posed any unique challenges for you in covering the Jewish community?
I know that on it’s face it makes parts of the community queasy. If my name were “Mitch Hennigan,” it wouldn’t really be an issue. But everybody assumes that if my name’s “Greenberg” and I’m Christian, I must have converted out, which isn’t the case. When I started this job, everybody I talked to was like, “So, are you a Jew for Jesus?” And I was very clear: No, I’m not involved in Jews for Jesus. No, they have not slipped a mole into the Jewish Journal. I don’t have a special calling to baptize all of “those pagan Jews.” I think when people understand who I am, when they see the sensitivity of my reporting, and the fact that I am just a really curious journalist who does care about this community and is interested in the stories that are affecting it, I think it breaks down those walls.
You’re halachically Jewish. When Jews find out that you’re a practicing Christian, do they ever try to bring you “back to the fold”?
I think that may be subtly going on. It hasn’t been anything that overt. I’m sure that a lot of people think that because I’m at the Jewish Journal, I think there is a perception that I’m here because I want to return to the community. And in ways I want to be able to identify with the community. I’m kind of struggling with how that can be done, how I can be Jewish while not adhering to the religion. But this is a thousands-year-old problem, the question of who is a Jew. I don’t anticipate being the answer.
Covering the Jewish community, do you find that Jews have any particular misconceptions about believing Christians?
Sure. I think they’re often propagated by — and I don’t use this word maliciously — ignorant or naïve reporters. And this is actually why I got into religion reporting. Right after the 2004 elections, my managing editor [at the San Bernardino Sun] sent out an e-mail saying they wanted to create a position for a religion reporter. Within 30 seconds I was in his office. And the whole reason was I think that religion is such an important part of all of our lives, whether you believe in one God or multiple gods or no god, it sets a framework for your worldview. But I see so much bad religion reporting out there, and it’s often done by people who are not specifically religion reporters.
This is an interesting time for Christian-Jewish relations, given tensions between the Jewish community and the mainline Protestants over Israel, and the uneasy embrace between segments of the Jewish community and the Evangelicals. Do you feel that, because of your dual background, you have more understanding of this situation?
I’m glad you asked about “understanding,” because I think I have a lot of understanding. I don’t see myself as a bridge or any kind of special piece in the puzzle. But I think I understand both groups. I think I understand the motivations of both. When you are both an insider and an outsider at the same time, I think that you understand what’s going on, but you remain inquisitive and curious as to why things are moving forward the way they are. It does offer some benefit.
Do you envision a career for yourself specifically in Jewish journalism?
I’m a journalist, and I have a special affinity for the Jewish community. I don’t see myself being in Jewish journalism forever, but the Jewish Journal is a great place to work right now.
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