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July 18, 1986 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-07-18

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hat's it like
to be Jewish,
Black and the Law
in s a Southern City?



Special to The Jewish News

Charleston, S.C.'s Police Chief Reuben Greenberg

e's tough. He's outspoken.
He's Jewish and he's black.
And down in this bastion of
Southern graciousness, Reuben
Greenberg is the law.

Chief Reuben Greenberg is a
tough cop with some
innovative crime fighting
ideas. He converted to
Judaism because he loved
the philosophy of the


Friday, July 18, 1986

In his four years as chief, crime has
dropped a dramatic 21 percent. Criminals
with prior records who are out on the
streets are watched closely by his police
department. Officers often walk the beat
in more comfortable sneakers than spit-
polished black shoes. Greenberg himself is
well known for his swashbuckling style
and contempt for the repeat offender. And
he's not above putting on a pair of roller
skates and directing traffic.
In his first two months in Charleston, he
suspended an experienced officer for cur-
sing at a citizen. The move was unheard
of. And in this center of blue-blooded Civil
War aristocracy, he doesn't care who likes
or dislikes him. But based on results in
this seaport and military post town, the
citizens love Chief Greenberg.
And it's not just the locals who love him.
He was featured on a "60 Minutes" seg-
ment, and in that segment reporter Morley
Safer asked.him "what's a nice Jewish boy
like you doing in a place like this?" The ex-
posure was so overwhelming that Green-
berg's office received hundreds of letters
of approval from citizens and police
departments all over the world. Locally,
the chief received a letter of praise from
Maryland State Comptroller Louis Gold-
Interestingly, several of the letters
targeted on the chief's religious choice. He
received more than his share of Christian
tracts and requests to reconsider his
On this particular spring Friday in
Charleston, the magnolia trees were sway-


ing in a warm, southern breeze. Chief
Greenberg was literally running from one
appointment to the next, appointments
that kept him constantly occupied with
government officials, police business,
media interviews, and even a parade
review at the Citadel.
That same evening he would attend ser-
vices at a packed Synagogue Emanu-el.
And after the finale of Adon Alom, he'd
share in the joy of a bar mitzvah boy's
oneg shabbat, surrounded by other con-
gregants in conversation. At Emanu-el,
Greenberg is a fixture. Indeed, he's a co-
chairman of the adult education commit-
tee and is on the shul's board of trustees.
For Greenberg, 40, life has been a dou-
ble conversion. He wasn't always Jewish,
and he wasn't always a cop. His grand-
father, a Jewish Russian immigrant, mar-
ried a black woman. While growing up in
Houston's ghettos, Greenberg rarely
learned about his Jewish ancestry. And it
wasn't until he was 26-years old that he
He became interested in Judaism as an
offshoot of his participation in the Civil
Rights Movement. And he noticed that
during the 1960s, many of the white move-
ment's participants were Jews, especially
in the San Francisco area where he lived.
Because many civil rights meetings were
held in synagogues and involved rabbis,
Greenberg started asking questions and
doing his own religious research.
"I converted to Reform in San Fran-
cisco," Greenberg said in the first of two
interviews he had with the Jewish
News. "I had always had some in-
terest, but it wasn't really religious con-
tact but secular contacts that led to the
relgious part of it. When I was growing up
in Houston, a black couldn't eat in res-
taurants owned by Jews, so one would

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