Lighted gardenia-scented candles flickered throughout the Brevard Jewish Community Temple. I grew up in Brevard, North Carolina but moved to San Francisco at the age of 17 to “find myself“. After 20–plus years and still not certain who I truly was, I felt the time had come to revisit my hometown.
It all began after reading an article in the Transylvania County Times about BJCT which my dear friend Marsha sent me; a few of the lines truly resonated with me:
“It is good to enter into the spirit of the Sabbath, a time in which our personal concerns drop away for a few hours and we get a sense of the larger meaning of life and fellowship, one unconcerned with wealth or occupation or standing. That is what Shabbat can do – take us to a place of repose, equality, community and perhaps even peace of mind.”
After my catastrophic marriage, peace of mind sounded like an impossible quest. Once my decision to return to Brevard was made, I called Marsha; she met me at the airport and our first stop was the temple. Services were already in progress so we sat in the back listening to the tranquil beauty of the ancient Hebrew chants.
Hearing the cantor’s resonant voice I realized it was familiar to me. I opened my eyes to see who was singing but my view was obstructed by a woman’s enormous hat. “I know that voice.” Glancing down at my program I saw a name that made my heart pound: ‘Arthur Rosen’. So much time had gone by but his name still warmed my blood. ‘’The one that got away’’, as the saying goes, when in actuality he was the one I pushed away.
As the people were leaving the temple, Marsha and I stopped to chat with Arthur; I wondered if he sensed my heart and mind were racing. He was as handsome as I remembered – a little grayer and sporting a closely-cropped beard which added to his rugged charm. His blue eyes were still captivating, his smile warm and inviting. I couldn’t help noticing he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
“Lois Efron! You have no idea how wonderful it is to see you after all these years! If I may say, you look radiant!” Arthur exclaimed. Truly happy to see me, he clasped my hands in his.
No embraces, no awkward kiss on the cheek – just genuine pleasure in seeing me again.
“It’s wonderful to see you too, Arthur – an especially nice surprise.”
He asked me what I’d been doing all this time and laughed when I told him “I was on the road to find out.”
“Aren’t we all, Lois?” he asked. “Tell me; were you victorious?”
Now it was my time to laugh, saying “Oh, no! Not at all!”
“Well, then, you must persevere!” Arthur replied with an engaging smile.
We said our goodbyes and I realized we were still holding hands. I suddenly remembered those many nights we held hands listening to “Tea for the Tillerman”.
Marsha slid behind the wheel of her car and I casually asked “So, when were you going to tell me Arthur was still living here?”
“Would you have come if I did?” and I found I honestly didn’t know the answer. “Lois, before we go to lunch I’d like to show you something.”
As we rode through the downtown area I was shocked by how much it had changed since I left. It was now dynamic and vibrant with eclectic stores, charming restaurants and lively pubs. Marsha parked the car, walked to a store and unlocked the door.
“Wait a second. Is this YOUR store?” I asked.
“Founder and owner” Marsha replied proudly. “What? Don’t sound so surprised! Welcome to Theophilus – a little bit of everything for the discriminating client.”
We were no longer in Brevard; this was a taste of the exotic Middle East. Gorgeous Persian rugs adorned the floors, hookahs, statues, belly dancing skirts bedecked with crystals, finger cymbals, lanterns, perfumes, jewelry boxes, coffee, almonds, candied dates and so much more filled the store.
“Do you like it?” Marsha asked excitedly.
“It’s magical, Marsha. I love it!” I responded, looking around in amazement.
“And look” Marsha said, gently guiding me toward the front window. “See that blue house across the street? Arthur lives there … very much alone. I’m sure he’d warmly welcome your company.”
I smiled knowingly at my friend; she understood me like no one else.
Yes, I think I’d found my way home.