Susan Jacoby talks with Terry Gross about her family's conversion history, conversion in America, and her new book, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion.
"Susan Jacoby: Yes, my family is a genuinely American story. My great-grandparents came over from - my great-grandfather came over from Germany after the revolution of - unfailed revolutions of 1848. They remained Jews, he and his wife, but their children - they had three children - one of them married a German baron and went back to Germany and converted to Lutheranism to marry the German baron. One of them, my great uncle Harold, who was professor of astronomy at Columbia University in the first part of the century at a time when there weren't very many Jewish-tenured professors, but he also wasn't a Jew by then. He married an Episcopalian and converted to the Episcopal Church, which was a fairly common thing for German Jews who converted and were moving up on the social ladder. His story is exemplified by the fact that his real name is Levi Harold Jacoby. He's still Levi Harold in the freshman class book at Columbia, but he becomes just plain Harold when he becomes a professor. He's a well-known popularizer of science. My grandfather, Oswald, did not convert and, in fact, married a Jew, but they were completely nonobservant. And they sent their children to Lutheran Sunday schools in Brooklyn. The kicker ending to all of this is that my father and his two siblings all married Irish Catholics and eventually converted."