Anna Lewis doesn't waste any time. She was my next-door neighbor growing up and I babysat for her daughter Karin and even taught Karin in Hebrew School one year. I haven't seen Anna, or her husband, Mike, since I moved from Virginia to New York nine years ago. Now, due to the vagaries of dissertation research, I am back in Charlottesville for six months, and Anna has invited me for dinner. I haven't been inside their front door two minutes before she asks, "How's your social life?" When I tell her it's nonexistent, she smiles and says there's a friend of a friend and he wants to settle down and she thinks we'd be just perfect for each other. "And he's Jewish, " she adds. At which point I feel compelled to interrupt and, in the interest of full disclosure, say airily, "I converted to Christianity a few years ago, you know."
She didn't know, even though our circle is small, even though I wear this small silver cross around my neck. Anna is surprised, and why not? Growing up I was a Jewish wonder child, star of the synagogue. Read from the Torah every Saturday morning. Spent Wednesday evenings with the local Jewish meditation group. Tutored girls for their Bas Mitzvahs. When I moved to New York for college, everyone predicted I'd come back a rabbi, not an Episcopalian.
But now I am back, and being back is a little odd: Aside from my mother and one high school friend, I don't see any of the people who were most important to me when I lived here before. I don't see my childhood rabbi or the women who led those Wednesday night meditations or any of the people I taught Sunday school with. Sometimes I downright avoid synagogue people (which is hard to do when staying at my mother's house, amere two blocks from the synagogue). Sometimes, walking along the Downtown Mall, I turn the other direction, or duck into a consignment shop, because I've spied a synagogue person and can't summon the reserves to chat, catch up, and have another conversion conversation.
You'd think I'd have those conversations down by now, but I am not sure they will ever come easy. They aren't easy because I still feel faintly foolish admitting to generally sane and rational people that I became a Christian in part because I was moved by a Christian novel and in part because I had a dream about Jesus. I realize that Scripture and church history are full of people converting because of books and dreams, but this all still seems a little flaky to me. And the conversations aren't easy because my Jewish friends and acquaintances, like Anna Lewis, though unfailingly generous, also usually feel hurt and confused and maybe even a touch betrayed.
This Friday night, en route to a date that turned out to be disastrous, I drove by the synagogue, all lit up and lovely looking. It was just dark outside; Shabbat evening services must have just started. Driving by, I wanted to skip the date and go in and pray and then drink coffee at the oneg after the service and talk to all the people I used to -- and still do -- love. I drove around and around the synagogue,at least four times, before realizing I wasn't going to go in, that I was going to go on my date, and go hiking the next morning with friends, and get up on Sunday and go to church, to a stone Episcopal church, also near my mother's house, only one block away from Congregation Beth Israel.
After church on Sunday, I came home and was sorting through books, some to take back to New York, some to sell to a used bookstore. I found a copy of Deborah, Golda, and Me, Letty Cottin Pogrebin's memoir, stamped with the stamp of the Congregation Beth Israel library. I must have checked it out some time in high school and never returned it. Two fantasies come to me. In one, I put the book in a manila envelope and leave it on the synagogue's doorstep, anonymously, in the middle of the night. In the other, I walk in one afternoon, stick my head into Rabbi Dan's office, make some self-conscious remark about books always providing a good excuse to reconnect, and go from there.