Vergie Veronica McCall: A Star of David

by | Dec 7, 2012 | Other News

Vergie McCall

Vergie McCall

In her soothing voice, Vergie McCall recites Psalms 23 and 91 to her hospice patients. “Prayers are powerful,” she confirms. “When you leave this world, you are going to the presence of God,” her grandmother used to say. “In the spirit of the Divine, you are no longer in a body that grows old. There are no ups and downs in a place with angels. How easy death is!”

As a volunteer for Freda H. Gordon Hospice and Palliative Care of Tidewater, a joint hospice program between Beth Sholom Village and Jewish Family Service, McCall is privileged to spend final moments with patients and offer support and assistance to their families. “I know that a stranger might be the last person to hand me a glass of water,” she says.

Recently, McCall suffered the loss of three loved ones. In December, 2011, her mother was buried within seven months of discovering her illness. Her brother died just nine months later in September and in November, her confidant, a resident at Beth Sholom, Morris London, passed away.

McCall considered London, 90, a best friend. She visited him almost every evening at 6 pm, spending hours in conversation, sometimes working through her Hebrew homework or Megillah lessons. McCall remembers London asking her, “Vergie, as an African American, why would you want to convert to Judaism? Why make life harder?” McCall smiles when she recalls his question because she believes the Jewish community has been a gift from God.

At three weeks old, McCall’s grandparents brought her to Norfolk from Philadelphia. Her grandfather worked at the Monticello Hotel. Her grandmother worked at Atlantic Leather in Ghent, owned by the Bernsteins.

In fourth grade, McCall moved to 124 Poplar Ave. in Berkley. She recalls the huge house with large living room, dining room, two kitchens, a full basement and seven bedrooms. She lived with her grandparents, aunt, uncle and two cousins.

At 3 pm each day, her grandmother would be waiting at the front door for her arrival from school. She and her friends loved their walk home. They took the short cut, walking through the Jewish cemetery, respectfully looking at the Stars of David on the tombstones and the dates engraved. McCall says, “We used our imaginations when we talked about the people whose names we read.”

Her family belonged to the New Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. McCall loved the fellowship and gospel singing and sang in the choir.

“For my high school graduation, the Bernsteins gave me a set of blue and red luggage that I packed to relocate to Philadelphia,” she recalls. Her father worked for the Cutlers, a Jewish family who owned a furniture store on Walnut Street. Her mother was a hospital nurse. McCall took a job at Temple University working in the radiology office, billing and filing. She took a class on medical terminology.

In her early 20s, McCall was convinced by Pastor Harold Davis to acquire a license in Evangelical Light work. Together, they went door to door as a missionary team. On March 7, 1970, McCall got married at age 21. She had two boys and raised them in Philadelphia until 1989.

Returning to Norfolk, she enrolled in the Alpha Omega College of Real Estate and became a licensed saleswoman. She worked for Bay Area Realty until she began to look for full time employment due to the recession.

After two interviews at CBN, McCall was hired as a trainer and counselor. Working for the 700 Club, she received calls from around the world. To properly answer the phone, she was taught to say, “This is Vergie, how may I pray with you?” and then she would listen.

In her free time, McCall continued to study at the New Mt. Zion A. M. E. Church. Her pastor, Reverend James Smith, encouraged her to interview in front of a board of 22 examiners to enroll in a ministry program. Accepted immediately, McCall began her training of ministration, homiletics, administration, pastor care, sermonizing, finance and operations, including pulpit duty twice a week. In May 1996, after five years of study, she was ordained Reverend Vergie McCall.

Taking ill soon after, McCall was unable to continue working at CBN. Misdiagnosed at first, she later learned that she had lupus. In 1996, she sold her home and moved to the Sands at Beth Sholom Village in College Park. Her health began to return after 15 months of chemotherapy and the proper medication. In 2002, her beloved aunt also moved to the Sands. They kept each other company in their respective apartments.

Within six months, her aunt was transferred to the Home, and McCall became a daily visitor. Having never crossed the parking lot to enter BSV’s Berger-Goldrich Home, she was thrilled to discover the kind, loving, patient nurses and staff.

By 2003, McCall was ready to start anew. Serendipitously that March, she received a phone call from a social worker at the Home. She had heard that McCall was an ordained minister and she hoped that McCall would offer Christian Bible Study weekly to the non- Jewish residents.

Under the direction of the Home’s activity director, McCall held a study group on Monday mornings from 2004 through 2012. One day, Dr. Angela Board, a guest minister at the prayer breakfast sensed that McCall had much more promise and asked, “Vergie, what is it that you really want to do?”

McCall had dreamed of having an office that offered outreach services.

She wanted to help people solve their problems. McCall registered with the state and received a 501(c)3 by mail authorizing her own ministry which she later named YAHWEH Center Incorporated.

During her visits to BSV’s Home, McCall noticed that Cantor Elihu Flax had begun a Hebrew class. Becoming a student, she learned the language of the “Old Testament” and discovered its layers of meaning. She loved reading the words of God from the “author of the book” and hearing about the Jewish religion.

Intrigued, McCall began attending Saturday morning Torah study classes at Ohef Sholom Temple. The sessions, led by alternating congregants, offered profound insights into text. She attended for five years. Three times asked to lead the Shabbat conversation, McCall finally relented. “I was intimated, but I prepared, ready with handouts.”

“Vergie, you are so Jewish,” Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg would often say to her. At Ohef Sholom, there was always a lot of love according to McCall.

“A couple of years later, Cantor Wally asked me to participate in the annual Megilla play,” she remembers. McCall agreed, never realizing that her part would be in Hebrew. When she protested, the cantor reminded her, “It doesn’t matter how you chant it. It is still the megillah.” For three years, she was happy to have a part.

In 2009, one of her temple friends suggested that they attend “Judaism 101” at Beth El. Ever thirsty for knowledge, McCall was curious to learn more about the traditional aspects of religious practice while she continued to go to services at Ohef Sholom. Her aspiration to embrace Judaism took on new meaning when she officially converted on June 21, 2012.

Because Ohef Sholom had been her first home, Rabbi Mandelberg was the first to know of McCall’s initial decision. McCall had 20 people witness her conversion; five were clergy. She remembers every “magnificent” detail, even the inspirational sound of her departed grandmother’s hum as a symbol of God’s presence. The mikvah dunking was officiated by Rabbis Mandelberg and Tendler. On Beth El’s bima afterwards, she was blessed by Rabbis Arnowitz and Tendler and Cantor Flax.

Today, McCall keeps a kosher kitchen, and she just celebrated her B’nai Mitzvah at Beth Sholom Village with 13 other participants. She reveals with tenderness, “Life has come full circle. I have always felt a part of the Jewish community.” She reflects, “One never knows the fullness of God.”

With her ability to love and her unwavering sense of tranquility, McCall has certainly found some of the answers.

by Karen Lombart