A yearlong journey for a reverend and a rabbi ended yesterday. Not only do they pray to the same God, but now they share something else - the rabbi received the reverend's kidney.
Last January, at a meeting of the Greater Mount Laurel Interfaith Association, the Rev. Karen Onesti noticed everybody asking Rabbi Andrew Bossov how he was feeling.
"Have you been sick?" she asked him.
The rabbi explained that he'd had colitis a decade ago, and doctors had put him on an experimental drug. It destroyed his kidneys.
"Would you believe it?" he told her. "I'm on a transplant list and I need a kidney."
Her response was immediate.
"I'll give you one of mine," she said.
"You don't know what you're saying," the rabbi responded.
"Yes, I do," the reverend insisted. "My family has great kidneys, and we live into our 90s. . . . The next thing you have to do is pray that my husband, Frank, says yes."
The reverend and the rabbi were at best casual friends, colleagues, fellow clergy who would meet maybe once a month. Both have been in Mount Laurel four years, he at Adath Emanu-El synagogue and she at Masonville-Rancocas United Methodist Church.
The rabbi, 47, was simply in shock.
"I don't know what to make of her," he recalled thinking at the time. "Is it God? Is it that she's an incredibly proactive person who wants to make things happen?"
The reverend, 49, called her husband and told him what she intended to do.
"Is he on dialysis?" a stunned and scared Frank Onesti, 52, asked his wife of 30 years.
"Then why would you do such a thing?" he asked.
"Well, he could go on dialysis at any time. And we shouldn't wait until he's at death's door."
"Well," her husband persisted, "doesn't he have family?"
"I didn't ask about his family," she replied.
In fact, the rabbi does have a wife, two teenage daughters, brothers, cousins, in-laws and close friends - none of whom was compatible.
Karen Onesti became the best hope. She was found to be a match. "My mother was ready to adopt her and take her home," the rabbi said.
A few things happened in the ensuing year: Onesti had a hysterectomy. Doctors then found spots on her liver, which were investigated and found to be insignificant. And Bossov's kidneys failed and he went on dialysis in July, three days a week.
Onesti never wavered. Both reverend and rabbi were cleared for transplant in December, the perfect holiday story.
The date was set for yesterday.
Last Friday evening, Frank and Karen Onesti went to services at the rabbi's synagogue, which was jammed as if it were the High Holidays.
"Is this what I have to do to get the place packed on a regular Friday night?" the rabbi joked to his congregation.
On Sunday, the rabbi and his family attended the minister's church service. The theme of her sermon was "My covenant to keep." She told the congregation, "We have to respond to God's love and do our part."
In an interview Monday, she elaborated: "Andy and I see God's hand in this plainly and clearly. He doesn't pray to Jesus. He doesn't believe Jesus is the Messiah. But three-quarters of my Bible is the same as his. We're called by the same God.
"Andy and I think it's not about us," she added. "It's about other people being organ donors. God's using us in that way. Lots of good will come from this in ways we don't even know."
The rabbi went to his last dialysis session on Monday afternoon. "She's the real story, making it very clear she believes in the oneness of our human kind," he said. "That's the common theme, and a model for others to follow.
"If we all did that a little more," he continued, "I think there'd be a little less war in this world. It makes me sound like a beauty-pageant contestant - I really do want world peace - but we really have to make it, we can't just pray for it. And she's illustrating that in a profound way."
The reverend arrived at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania late yesterday morning in high spirits, unwavering, and thirsty - she hadn't been able to drink since midnight.
The rabbi arrived half an hour later, grateful, eager. "I'm looking forward to waking up," he said.
The reverend's husband and the rabbi's wife and daughter sat together in the waiting room.
"I guess it boils down to a matter of faith," said Frank Onesti. "I really believe that God put my wife and the rabbi together and God will take care of them both."
Last night they were both in recovery.