By R.M. Grossblatt
“I was a Baptist country girl raised in the Oklahoma Bible Belt,” Leah Schiermeyer began as she talked to about 100 women at Congregation Beth Jacob. It was the fifth weekly Shalosh Seudot (third meal of Shabbat) event sponsored by Bena, the Atlanta Scholars Kollel women’s division.
At the earlier Shabbat gatherings, women enjoyed wraps, salads and desserts by the Spicy Peach and speeches by Rebbetzin Miriam Feldman, the principal of Temima: the Richard and Jean Katz High School for Girls; Esther Pransky; Rivka Lipschutz; and Esther Sulkes.
Bena co-chairs Julie Silverman and Batsheva Gelbtuck planned the summer program in Toco Hills and Dunwoody. For this last women’s Shalosh Seudot in the Beth Jacob conference room, Schiermeyer, the author of “A Simple Twist of Faith,” shared her story of conversion.
Active in her church, Schiermeyer at 37 felt that she wanted a closer relationship with G-d. One night before she fell asleep, she prayed to G-d: “I really want to know You, whatever the cost, whatever it takes. Please lead me into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with You.”
Then events started happening.
Her husband, a physician in the Air Force and a Bible teacher at their church, was open to learning about other religions. When a good friend, another Air Force physician who was returning to his Jewish roots, raved about tapes by Rabbi Tovia Singer, Dr. Schiermeyer borrowed them. He thought they would be interesting and prove that his Christian faith was true, but the opposite happened.
“Rabbi Singer raised serious questions about the validity of the New Testament and why Jews don’t accept these Scriptures,” said Schiermeyer, who at first brushed off the whole thing. But when she and her husband tried to talk to their pastor or close friends about what they had learned, they were the ones brushed off.
One evening in December, they were visited by leaders of their congregation. The Schiermeyers were excited that their friends were finally coming to discuss what they learned from Rabbi Singer’s tapes.
Sitting in a living room decorated with a Christmas tree, Schiermeyer offered her guests eggnog, warm cider and food. They turned down everything.
Instead, the group told the Schiermeyers to leave the church.
Around the same time, Schiermeyer, who was pregnant with twins, was diagnosed with bladder cancer and given three years to live. It was a time of great upheaval for her and her family. When she shared this part of her story, her eyes filled with tears.
Eventually, the Schiermeyers moved to Denver. Lori Palatnik, a well-known speaker at Aish.com and director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, lived nearby, and Schiermeyer asked whether they could study together.
In 2004, after 10 years of study and soul-searching, the Schiermeyers converted to Judaism They joined an Aish HaTorah synagogue and remarried according to halacha (Jewish law). Schiermeyer has been cancer-free for 12 years.
At the end of her talk, Schiermeyer shared that it was a particular pleasure to speak in Atlanta because her son married a wonderful girl from here. She added, “Be careful what you pray for,” then she smiled.