The heathen Jew was raised by Jewish parents who sort of observed.
She went to services on some holidays. Celebrated at home.
The smells of roasted chicken, matzoh ball soup, latkes, sponge cake, shmaltz are her Jewish identity.
Grown up, barely, she purchases a menorah and lights the candles when she remembers.
On tour with Jesus Christ Superstar, she holds a makeshift seder in her hotel room for fellow cast members. She finally gets to do Fiddler, and is the only Jewish person in the cast. (Similar experience with Yiddle with a Fiddle.)
She marries a lapsed Catholic; they have two children.
Knowing that the children will learn all about Christianity just by growing up in this country, she begins celebrating at least some of the Jewish holidays in her home. Seders, latke dinners, the occasional baking of challah with very young hands helping.
The children are not confused as the heathen Jew feared. They know that they get Chanukah gifts from one set of grandparents, and Christmas gifts from another. Santa comes, too. They know about Jesus and atheism because various aunts and uncles have differing beliefs. The heathen Jew teaches them that no one knows anything for sure, so any of it is just that: a belief. The children have their own relationship with religion and spirituality. It includes God.
As the oldest child grows, he takes on his Jewish identity more strongly. He asks to go to Hebrew school. The heathen Jew is carried along. The family joins a synagogue. The lapsed Catholic father attends as much as the heathen Jew. The children begin religious education. It is a welcoming congregation, and one in which the heathen Jew and the lapsed Catholic feel comfortable together. Holiday services become regular events. They even go to Shabbat services on occasion. The music is glorious. The heathen Jew had not realized how many prayers and melodies were still with her from her childhood. The lapsed Catholic starts humming along. The heathen Jew starts taking off work on the High Holidays.
A "wedding" occurs. A Torah is commissioned and a celebration more moving than words can describe weds this Torah to this Synagogue. Each family member has written a letter in this Torah. A cantor from Berlin accepts the very old one being replaced. She speaks with such passion for learning and gratitude for her Judaism. The cantor returns several months later and leads a service. Her interpretation of the text moves the heathen Jew unlike any sermon she's ever heard. The heathen Jew has found her teacher.
The rabbi discovers the heathen Jew's past singing career and asks her to join him leading a music service. The heathen Jew agrees and takes home a CD and a prayer book to memorize the less familiar melodies and words.
High Holidays, present tense. Five weeks from her son's bar mitzvah, the heathen Jew is at the synagogue celebrating the new year. The cantor from Berlin is singing. The rabbi is singing. Their voices mix as though they have always sung together. In the rabbi's sermon, a quote that hits home: "I would rather choose to believe in God and be wrong, than not believe in God and be right." Two days later, the bar mitzvah of a converted adult. One who chooses to not only be Jewish, but to add study of Torah to his life. A conversation after with the cantor, who is still visiting. A statement from the rabbi that my work with wool and silk would make beautiful prayer shawls.
It may be time to drop the word heathen.