Joe Berkofsky, a JTA staff writer based in New York, covers education, Jewish identity issues, philanthropy and the religious movements. He has been a reporter for the technology network TechTV in San Francisco, daily newspapers in the greater Boston area, and a contributing writer to The Jerusalem Report, The San Jose Mercury News, B'nai B'rith's International Jewish Monthly and other publications. He was also an editor at the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California and at other weekly newspapers.
Do the Jews "Need" Geraldo?
This article is reprinted with permission of JTA. Visit www.jta.org.
NEW YORK, May 20 (JTA)--Geraldo Rivera has rediscovered his Jewish roots, and he declares the Jews "need" him back.
The Jews, apparently, are decidedly mixed about his arrival.
Rivera, 59, the flamboyant TV reporter, announced to The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post in recent days that he is planning to marry TV producer Erica Levy, 29, in a Reform ceremony in New York this summer.
Rivera, whose mother is Jewish and father Puerto Rican, told The Washington Post that "the Jews need me right now," apparently, according to the Inquirer, to help sort out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"I think it's safe to say the Jews need Geraldo Rivera as much as everyone else does," chimed in New York Daily News columnist Zev Chafets.
Rivera and Levy are due to be wed this August at the historical Central Synagogue in Manhattan. The guest list at the ceremony and reception, to be held at the tony Four Seasons, is said to include the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton.
Rabbi Peter Rubenstein, senior rabbi at the 128-year-old synagogue, which is one of the oldest Reform temples in the country, will officiate.
Rubenstein declined to discuss the impending Levy-Rivera nuptials.
"I'd feel uncomfortable commenting on that," he told JTA.
Rivera could not be reached for comment, but he told The Washington Post that he is going to "take this whole Judaism thing seriously" from now on.
While this is his fifth wedding, Rivera says it's his first in a synagogue or church. He celebrated a dual Bar Mitzvah in Israel with his oldest child, son Gabriel, now 23.
A spokesman for the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Brian Levenson, would not comment for the Rivera story, but Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Lubavitch Chasidic movement greeted Rivera's return to Judaism warmly.
"We're happy to see any Jew discover his roots and reconnect with his heritage," Eliezrie said.
"I hope Mr. Rivera will do a little investigative reporting of Jewish learning and help develop a deep intellectual appreciation of the Jewish tradition."
Speaking of reporting, Rivera has come under fire for some of his TV work in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The media watchdog groups Standwithus.com and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, or CAMERA, blasted Rivera in 2002 for his reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"`Although uninformed coverage of the Israel-Palestinian crisis is common, Rivera's combination of inanity and incessant self-reference to his own feelings, reactions and experiences has prompted particular audience disgust and derisive criticism from other journalists," CAMERA said.
That April 2002 criticism came after Rivera said that although he had been a lifelong Zionist and "would die for Israel," Palestinian suffering was turning him also into a "Palestinian-ist."
Upon learning of Rivera's Jewish wedding, Andrea Levin, executive director of CAMERA, said, "He's not going to be a Palestinian-ist anymore?"
While a Jewish marriage "doesn't always necessarily guarantee level-headed reporting," she added, "I certainly hope he has a long and happy marriage and that it helps inform his reporting."
But Chafets had a different image of Rivera. Before he became a New York-based columnist and best-selling crime novelist, Chafets headed the Israeli Government Press Office under former Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
That meant Chafets dealt with the international media during Israel's war in Lebanon in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a pre-tabloid Rivera was a foreign correspondent for ABC News.
Chafets wrote about media coverage of Israel in the book Double Vision, and he recalled Rivera, "in a very stand-up way," claiming that the Palestine Liberation Organization had threatened his life.
"At that time he was distinguished among American TV journalists by his honesty," Chafets said in an interview.
Chafets has not spoken with Rivera for nearly 20 years, but added that as far as Rivera's treatment of Israel goes, "I have never found him to be in any way notable, one way or the other."
His ABC News stint earned him several investigative journalism awards, but ended in a flap over a spiked story about an affair between JFK and Marilyn Monroe.
Rivera went tabloid, and in the 1980s told a conference of investigative journalists that he would soon unveil a new kind of investigative reporting on TV.
He then hosted a syndicated tabloid talk show, "Geraldo," which featured topics such as "Men in Lace Panties and the Women Who Love Them."'
The show broke ratings records when a brawl broke out between neo-Nazis and blacks on the set and Rivera's nose was broken in the melee.
More recently Rivera worked for the cable business news channel CNBC, and in 2001 Fox News Channel hired him as a foreign correspondent.
With Fox, Rivera covered the U.S. war in Afghanistan, where he stepped into a media minefield by saying he was near enemy lines when he was not. He called it a mistake.
Rivera also came under attack in Iraq for revealing sensitive military details, which he also called an error.
Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.