By Helene Levenson
I'm a 100% Ashkenazi Jew, which hasn’t always been easy.
When Mom was a kid in Petersburg, VA, some idiot had left a note that he "had poisoned her Jew dog." Daddy got into a fight with an antisemitic brat when he was in second grade and was the one the principal punished, by calling in Daddy’s parents and suspending him.
Frankly, Daddy told me the world was composed of two types – Jews and antisemites. Not that he believed this truly; his best friends and loving coworkers were devout Christians. He told me they'd tried gently to proselytize him, but he gently refused.
When I was a teenager, a next-door neighbor's son married a Christian. The neighbor held a funeral service for his son. It isn't just in Fiddler on the Roof or the 19th century, or even just among Orthodox that these things happen.
My family regularly attended a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Richmond, VA. I went to Hebrew School twice weekly, after public school. Most Friday night and Saturday morning services – when Junior Congregation let out – I and the other kids joined our parents in the temple. I was Bat Mitzvah'ed, went to Hebrew High School after public school let out, and was confirmed at 16. While I was proud of my heritage, enjoyed Pesach, and kept the High Holy Days, I didn't have the "internal" feeling that this was all there was.
My middle school science/math teacher, Nancy Thomasson, gave me the sermon The Greatest Thing in the World as a Bat Mitzvah present. I read it, and asked my dad, "why did she give me this text about First Corinthians?" He replied that it was in her faith tradition; she was Christian and meant well.
I thought nothing of it until I was 16. My summer job was as a library assistant for the Henrico County School System. During this job I started, on my own, to read the New Testament as well as the Qur’an. Paul's statement that wives should be submissive to their husbands appalled this little 1969 feminist. I shut the NT in disgust.
During the summer of 1970, I was an American Field Service student in Taranto, Italy. My AFS family, who were Roman Catholic, took me to mass once. I was excited to see the "Holy, Holy, Holy" in the order of service. "Of course," came the reply, "we took a lot from Judaism." Their family friends came to meet me during one supper get together. One was German. After a while, one said, "we could never understand what the Nazis had against the Jews – you're no different from us." The German lady agreed.
I never attended any synagogue services during college, except for a couple of summers at home. Sometime in my twenties, during grad school, I picked up the Christianity lite stuff – The Search for the Historical Jesus, the Jesus Project, Funk, Ehrman, etc.
My boyfriend converted to Judaism for our wedding to please my parents; he wasn't religious. His folks were nominally Christian; they never went to church as far as I saw. Strangely enough, it was when my fiancé did his final conversion rituals and we went to High Holy Days service during grad school that it hit me – not rationally or logically but in my heart. Jesus had to be the Son of God. He had to die for our sins. There was no way mankind could save itself. Eating latkes, building sukkot, donating to Israel none of this, or the 613 commandments were going to save me.
I continued to stay out of the church; though frankly I was delighted when my rival cousin announced she was marrying a Roman Catholic and of course her kids would be Catholic. I felt that took the heat off of me, but I didn't declare myself to my parents.
By 1988, my marriage had disintegrated; he literally went off on his motorcycle. I wanted a kid; he didn't. I hated men for a while; then a friend told me to crawl out of my shell and meet people doing things I liked. I met my current husband at a dance. He'd gone to Presbyterian churches occasionally with his mom and siblings and attended a strict Baptist preacher's tiny church during part of his Air Force service, but he had no idea if he'd ever been baptized. He kind of believed Christianity in the usual American "if you're good you'll get into Heaven" way.
My mom died of her second heart attack in June 1992. She'd been in the hospital for four months and unable to meet Gene. We postponed our wedding for five months but now came the big news. I'd decided to take the plunge – ok, the head wetting. I'd researched various denominations and opted for the Anglican way.
I told Daddy; after all, I did very much love him and want him at my wedding. He wasn't happy about it. When he came to visit or when I visited him, he left books with titles such as You Take Jesus; I'll take God. We had a number of thoughtful, loving discussions in which neither convinced the other, but our hearts respected the other's opinions and choices.
I became a choir member and active in the church; Gene attended services but never participated more. Our daughter attended services, Sunday School, and became a believer.
My dear daddy died in March 2000. I invited a priest to be at his last moments. She prayed over him, and I said the Shema into his ear. I would like – would love – to think that in his last moments he said to himself, "you know; there's no contradiction here. My daughter is right!"
After some disappointing experiences with church communities during the 90s and 00s, where non-biblical beliefs were preached from the pulpits, we joined Truro.
Years ago, I asked a clergy friend about what would happen to my parents. He was so kind; he understood my tears. His answer was that no one but God knew what was in my daddy's or my mom’s hearts when they died, or what God will do for the Jews at the Second Coming. I can only pray for the souls of my parents and forebears.
Anyway, in 2005 we moved to Savannah, GA, because no one in his right mind retires near the DC Beltway. We thought we'd sink new roots ahead of time. We joined Christ Church, and have been happy, active congregants ever since.
Ten years ago, I reconnected with a childhood/teen best friend. She'd moved to snowy Rochester, NY decades earlier. Jesus found her too! She's active in her Messianic Jewish congregation.
Helene Levenson is a retired corporate lawyer who worked for many years in the computer industry. Helene graduated as a Wellesley Scholar (equivalent to Summa Cum Laude) with a B.A. in psychology from Wellesley College. She earned a Master's Degree in psychology, with a focus on cognition and human experimental design, from The University of Texas at Austin. Her law degree is from Georgetown University Law Center. Until retirement, she was a member in good standing in the District of Columbia Bar and Virginia State Bar. Helene enjoys reading (mostly history, science, and apologetics, with the occasional mystery), knitting and designing knitwear, spinning wool, baking, and singing soprano in the Christ Church Anglican Adult Choir. She lives near Savannah, Georgia with her husband and will use any excuse to brag about her married daughter and son-in-law.