Yom Kippur Beach Walk

This post was originally scheduled for 14 September 2013, as part of the long-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. I wanted to finally move all these old posts out of my drafts folder already!

Like last week’s post, this also obviously comes from an older version of the book formerly known as The Very First. It’s since undergone several more rounds of edits.

***

Important Note: Out of reverence for Yom Kippur, this post, like all my other Saturday postings, has been prescheduled.

This scene takes place a bit after the Yom Kippur piece I shared last year. Young Cinni and Sparky are taking a walk on the beach in the late afternoon, and have gotten to talking about Cinni’s feud with her older sister Stacy (Eustacia). Sparky is trying to explain what repentance and forgiveness mean, though Cinni and Stacy will continue not speaking to one another until June 1985, when their near-lifelong silence ends by accident.

***

“Real repentance happens between two people.  God doesn’t perform forgiveness on your behalf if you haven’t talked to the other person and apologized.  And you’re not supposed to think about how things might be different or better in another life.  Our focus is on the here and now, on this life.  But the gates of repentance are always open.”

“So you can ask God, or other people, for forgiveness at other times of the year?”

“Of course.  And even though tonight is gonna be the main closing of the gates, they’re still gonna be officially open till Hoshanah Rabah, one of the holidays at the end of Sukkot.  It’s like one last chance to get in any final, missed prayers or apologies.”

“Wow, you people have a lot of holidays I never knew about.  I don’t think even Laura celebrates so damn many.  She says the Catholic Church stopped celebrating all their fast and feast days a long time ago.  At least, normal people stopped celebrating them.  I’m sure religious fanatics still do it.”

Sparky cast her eyes up toward the sky, which was still rather blue and not yet turning into a watercolor of the setting Sun. “I can almost see the gates of heaven up there, even though I know God doesn’t really live up in the sky or even in this world.  It’s hard to describe unless you’ve been there and heard it, but when the shofar is blown at the end of Rosh Hashanah services, the final, very long note, I can feel time and the world standing still, and the gates of heaven opening.  And when the long note is blown again at the end of Yom Kippur, it’s like I can feel the gates shutting for another year.  But God hears prayers at all times, even if this time of year is the most ideal time to ask for important stuff.”

“Next year at this time, I bet you’ll be a proper American girl and not so focused on old world stuff.  I mean, you can still be religious, but I hope it won’t be the main thing about you.  Laura lives in the real world while still doing her Catholic thing.”

Sparky looked down at her skirt, which covered her knees, and her sleeves, which covered her elbows. “I guess I still don’t look exactly American.  Even if I’m not Orthodox, I still was taught I have to dress modestly.  But when I’m at school or with you and your friends, I do feel kinda outta place.  The only other girl we know who dresses like me is Nancy, but you said she ain’t really your official friend.”

“You’ve got a leg up on Nan, ‘cause at least you show way more skin and don’t think it’s a sin to even look at a boy.  But your hair’s slowly starting to grow outta that awful haircut your mom forced on you, and the poodle curls are gone.  I think you’re more scared than you oughta be of showing off extra bare skin.  Once you start wearing more normal clothes, it’ll become like second nature, and you won’t be able to believe you useta shun them.”

“Can we talk more about this tomorrow?  Even if I’m not old enough to fast or do other grownup stuff, I don’t feel right talking about stuff like clothes and hair on Yom Kippur.”

Cinni dug her sandaled foot into a patch of wet sand. “If you insist.  I ain’t some twit like Al, who only likes to talk about stuff like that, even if I ain’t the opposite extreme like Nan or Adeline.  Speaking of, I’ve long been itching to get my hands on botha them to try to make ‘em over.  Perhaps they’ll be inspired once they see how I’ve successfully made you over.  Even unpopular girls can’t be that immune to wanting to look normal as they get older.  If they want boys to notice ‘em when we’re old enough, they’ve gotta start dressing the part and talking about normal stuff.”

Sparky looked up at the seagulls flying overhead as she and Cinni continued on down the beach.  If only she could be as carefree as the seagulls, and not worrying about heavy things like repentance and how to become a real American girl before she was even bat mitzvah.

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Tashlich 1938

This post was originally scheduled for 7 September 2013, as part of the now-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It comes from an older version of the book formerly known as The Very First, which has since undergone even more edits.

***

In loving memory of the one and only Keith John Moon, greatest drummer ever, who passed from this life, far too early, 35 years ago today.

In honour of Rosh Hashanah, which spanned 4-6 September this year, this week’s post comes from my chronological first Atlantic City book, The Very First. (I know it needs a much better title, but after over 20 years, I just can’t think of it by any other name!) Chapter 12, “High Holy Days,” covers the full cycle of the fall holidays in 1938.

New immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) is struggling to fit into her new town and American life. Her new best friend Cinnimin, whom her family lives with, thinks Sparky should make some compromises to be a real American girl. Each girl tries to convince the other, in a respectful way, of the merits of her side.

***

Monday after school, Cinni was skipping stones at the pond with Tina and Gayle when the Smalls appeared on the horizon, along with a bunch of other people Cinni didn’t recognize.  When she saw the man with the beard, she figured it must be their rabbi.  None of the other gentlemen had beards.  Perhaps he felt it were his duty to set an example and appear very religious on behalf of everyone else.  As it was, beards seemed so pre-modern, on a man of any religion.

“Would you like to skip stones with us?” Cinni asked. “It’s nice how your folks ain’t against having fun on a holiday.  I’ve heard some Christians in the olden days useta just sit and read the Bible on holidays and Sundays, and wouldn’t let their kids play or listen to music.”

“We’re not here to have fun,” Barry said, sneaking a look at Cinni. “We’re here for tashlich.”

“We’re going to throw crumbs into the water to symbolically cast off our sins,” Gary explained.

“Don’t you get rid of your sins by doing all that praying?  And I know you fast on Yom Kippur.  This seems like a silly superstition, like sacrificing children or spitting to ward off the evil eye.”

“It’s not meant to take the place of prayer and repentance,” Barry said. “It’s just a nice ritual done in addition to praying.  Some really religious folks spin a chicken or fish around their heads to transfer their sins to the animal.  We’re not nearly that goofy.”

“Barry and I are too young to fast on Yom Kippur,” Sparky said as the adults assembled a short distance from them. “We’re encouraged to not eat for part of the day, but we’re not supposed to fast the entire day before we’re obligated to keep all the commandments.  But Barry will be bar mitzvah in January.  He’ll have to do it next year.”

“Would you like to come to my bar mitzvah party?  I’ll give you a seat of honor at my table.”

“Sure, that sounds fun.  I ain’t a fan of most religion, but if there’s a party involved, it can’t be that boring.”

Cinni moved to another part of the pond with Gayle and Tina and continued skipping stones.  They watched the ceremony out of the corners of their eyes.

“I don’t understand what in the world they’re doing, or why, but I think it’s neat,” Gayle declared as she selected a round, flat gray stone and skipped it quite a distance across the water. “I wish Methodism had rituals like that.  I like religions with fun stuff.”

“Why do you even read about religion?” Tina asked. “It’s grownup stuff.  Grownup stuff is boring.  I only like reading stuff like comic books and magazine stories.”

“I like opening my mind to new worlds.  I don’t wanna look like some stupid American who only cares about her own culture and community.  When I grow up, I’d like a job where I can use my interest in these things.  Maybe I’ll be a fortuneteller or an astrologer.  Or maybe I can do what Mrs. Malspur does in her séance room, only make money for it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought about what I really wanna do when I’m a grownup.” Cinni pulled a candybar out of her skirt pocket, ripped off the wrapper, and took a huge bite. “For now, all I wanna do is fill my stomach and have fun.”

They watched the man they assumed to be the rabbi reading from a prayerbook as some of the group followed along in their own prayerbooks or from memory.  At the conclusion of the brief prayer service, someone passed around a bag of breadcrumbs mixed with fish food, and people took turns going to the water’s edge to cast the crumbs into it.  Cinni noticed that there weren’t many young people in the group.  Sparky probably felt lonely.

WeWriWa—The yearly nightmare

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, which released 17 July, on my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary.

This snippet takes place in the middle of the night on 17 July 1930, on the eve of a memorial service for Aleksey’s parents. Aleksey and his newlywed wife Arkadiya, who’s now seven months pregnant, have relocated to the suburb of Peterhof to get away from the worst of the summer heat. They’re staying in Znamenka, an estate that’s part of a large complex of palaces, whose owners are now Grand Duchess Anastasiya, her husband Prince Roman Petrovich, and their surviving children.

This night proves to be Arkadiya’s first disturbed night of sleep, as she discovers her new husband is wracked by nightmares every year on this date.

“You’re safe with me, golubchik,” she soothed him as she stroked his sweaty auburn hair. “I can guess what you dreamt.”

“The same nightmare I always have on this date, at exactly this time.” His voice shook. “The White soldiers don’t get into the cellar in time to save me, and the murderers chase my sisters around the room with bayonets before shooting them in their heads.  Then the ringleader tries to stab me with a bayonet, and shoots me in the head when he can’t get past the jewels sewn into my undershirt.  If not for those jewels, my sisters and I would’ve been dead for twelve years.”

Arkadiya laid her head on his chest. “If I could take those bad memories and nightmares away from you, I would.  You didn’t deserve to almost be murdered at thirteen.”

Sometimes, the greatest heroes are those no one expects.

Aleksey, the miraculously rescued boy Tsar, knows he may not have a long life, but he’s determined to do all he can, as long as he’s alive, to bring his empire into the modern era and rule with love. But since real life isn’t a fairytale, there are a number of obstacles standing in his way.

Aleksey’s uncle Mikhail, his regent and guardian, radically transforms into a revenge-minded autocrat, and expects him to rule with the same iron fist. Mikhail’s behavior as Regent alienates and horrifies an increasing number of people.

As much as Aleksey wants to take power and start making everything right, he’s held back by his youth and inexperience. In order to gain real-world experience outside palace walls, he heads off to the Sorbonne for four years. After graduation, he begins co-ruling with his uncle.

Shortly before his twenty-fifth birthday, Aleksey is finally compelled onto the throne in his own right. Determined to endear himself to the people and demonstrate how modern and compassionate he is, he begins granting sweeping reforms. However, before he can be formally coronated, he’s ordered to find an Empress.

Arkadiya Gagarina is the least-likely Empress anyone could imagine. Not only is she a morganatic princess, but she’s also seven years older than Aleksey, walks with a limp, and carries several large, hidden burn scars. Regardless, Aleksey wants her and no one else.

Aleksey’s choice of a bride endears him even further to the people, and the reigning couple’s popularity increases even more with the birth of their first child. But just when it seems like Russia has finally come into the modern era, the biggest challenge yet comes when another war breaks out.

And thus begins the most heroic act of his life.

Novodevichye Cemetery and Nansen passports

Copyright Ghirlandajo

Novodevichye Cemetery is the most famous of all Muscovite cemeteries (not to be confused with St. Petersburg’s Novedevichye Cemetery). It’s next to the 16th century Novodevichye Convent, Moskva’s third-biggest tourist draw.

Prolific architect and preservationist Ivan Pavlovich Mashkov designed the cemetery in 1898, though it was only in the 1930s that it truly rose to prominence. Under Stalin, the necropoleis of Medieval Muscovite monasteries were scheduled for destruction, and the remains were moved to Novodevichye.

Many other famous Muscovites were also moved from different abbeys for reburial in Novodevichye.

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, whom I have very mixed feelings about, but whom I ultimately feel was a decent person who started out trying to do the right thing. Copyright A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace)

Also in the 1930s, a 19th century necropolis within the walls of the convent underwent reconstruction. Almost all the graves were destroyed, including those of 2,000 nobles and professors. Another former resident of the necropolis, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (my third-fave writer), was moved into the cemetery.

Chekhov’s grave became the genesis of the Cherry Orchard section, where legendary actor Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavskiy and the leading actors of his company were buried.

Chekhov’s grave, Copyright Tatiana gothic

Nikolay Vasiliyevich Gogol, Copyright Petar Milošević at sr.wikipedia

In the USSR, burial in Novodevichye was second in prestige to that of the Kreml Wall Necropolis. Countless writers, artists, musicians, scientists, military people, athletes, cosmonauts, actors, directors, mathematicians, composers, and politicians were buried there.

Today, more than 27,000 souls rest in Novodevichye, and there’s little room left for future burials.

View of the monastery from the cemetery, Copyright giomodica; Source

Cemetery entrance

The cemetery is grouped into Old, New, and Newest sections, with maps available in the office. The grounds are arranged like a quiet, peaceful park, dotted with little chapels and large sculpted monuments.

A number of prominent sculptors’ work is on display at Novodevichye.

Nadezhda Sergeyevna Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife, Copyright Petar Milošević at sr.wikipedia

Other famous people buried here include writers Sergey Aksakov, Ilya Ehrenburg, Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksey Tolstoy, Mikhail Bulgakov, Vladimir Mayakovskiy, Aleksandr Tvardovskiy, and Andrey Beliy; Nikita Khrushchëv; film director Sergey Eisenstein; singer Fyodor Shalyapin (called Chaliapin in the West); cellist Mstislav Rostropovich; and psychologist Lev Vygotskiy.

Copyright Bogdanov-62

Copyright Hello-Andrew

Copyright Stasa16

Copyright Hello-Andrew

My characters the Lebedev(a)s live very close to Novodevichye Cemetery after they move from Pskov to Moskva around 1905. This once-envied location becomes particular torture to Mr. Lebedev after he escapes from prison and returns to his house during the Civil War.

He has no choice but to stay hidden in the house (protected by a phony smallpox quarantine sign), and can no longer regularly visit Chekhov’s grave to pay his respects. Mr. Lebedev loves literature.

City Hall, Oslo, Copyright Ivan Vasilev

Nansen passports were the brainchild of Fridtjof Nansen, High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations. They began being issued after the 3–5 July 1922 Intergovernmental Conference on Identity Certificates for Russian Refugees, held in Geneva.

Originally intended for refugees of the Russian Civil War (of whom about 800,000 became stateless in 1921), they were extended to Armenians, Assyrians, and Turks in 1933.

Though they stopped being issued in 1938, they were still honored by 52 countries.

Copyright Huddyhuddy

About 450,000 were issued to people who needed travel documents but weren’t able to obtain them from their home countries.

The Nansen International Office for Refugees earned the 1938 Nobel Peace Prize.

Famous holders include Vladimir Nabokov, Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinskiy, Sergey Rakhmaninov, ballerina Anna Pavlova, Aristotle Onassis, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe).

My character Arkasha Orlov issues Nansen passports to Mrs. Brezhneva’s Kyiv orphanage during its partial relocation to Isfahan, Iran in June 1937, during a brief stop in Aden. Arkasha, who works for the British Consulate in Isfahan, is on Aden on business.

Inna Zhirinovskaya, a former orphanage girl who’s now Mrs. Brezhneva’s assistant, catches Arkasha’s eye, and he openly begins flirting with her while filling out the particulars on her Nansen passport.

 

Kurapaty

Copyright represil.net

Kurapaty is a woods on the outskirts of Minsk. Between 1937–41, over 250,000 people were murdered by the NKVD and dumped in mass graves there. In 2004, it was named a cultural heritage site of Belarus.

Copyright Bestalex

Before the Great Terror, Kurapaty was a popular place for picnics, day trips, and hikes. The hills were covered in beautiful white flowers.

When the Great Terror began, there were three massacres a day—dawn, 2:00 PM, and dusk. The condemned were lined up by twos, bound and gagged, and shot into already-dug pits. A layer of sand was thrown over each layer of the dead and dying, and then the process began all over again.

Sometimes saplings were planted on top.

Copyright Kapsuglan

In the second half of 1937, a fence was built around Kurapaty, making the astronomically low odds of survival and escape even more impossible. Anyone who did manage to survive and escape was almost always quickly discovered and murdered, or died soon afterwards.

Nearby villagers could see the trucks rolling up the flat road into the forest, and could hear the shootings. When no gags were used, they could hear screaming, moaning, and weeping. After the shootings began taking place all night in the second half of 1937, many villagers found it hard to sleep.

Copyright Валацуга (http://forum.globus.tut.by/viewtopic.php?p=60985#60985); Source

Daring children snuck inside the fence and saw the dead and dying under the top layers of sand in the mass graves.

After the Nazis invaded the USSR in June 1941, the massacres stopped and the villagers pulled down the fence for the wood. They also cut down the trees in the forest. Today’s Kurapaty trees were planted after WWII.

Copyright Валацуга

Every year on 2 November, Dziady (a Belarusian remembrance of the dead, whose name means “grandfathers”), hundreds of people visit Kurapaty to pay their respects.

In 1994, Pres. Bill Clinton visited and gave the Belarusian people a small granite monument which was placed in Kurapaty. Sadly, it’s been vandalized thrice.

Copyright Валацуга

Copyright Валацуга

My characters Rustam Zyuganov and Roman Safronov, Sr., are taken to Kurapaty in April 1937. A third intended victim, Fyodor Nadleshin, the adoptive brother of Roman’s wife and Rustam’s cousin Inessa, is out of town.

Rustam’s crime was telling a joke about Stalin at work, while Ph.D. film studies student and junior professor Roman is writing a paper on Vera Kholodnaya, a declared enemy of the people.

Copyright Валацуга

Rustam manages to survive and escape, due to keeping his wits sharply about him the entire time, and not immediately panicking like Roman. He also gets a very dark blessing when their assigned assassin puts his Nagan revolver to Roman’s head instead of his.

Rustam immediately jumps into the pit to make it look like he fell from being shot, claws out an air pocket, and unties the rag over his mouth and removes the gag with minimal movements. He was “only” gagged, not bound as well.

Copyright Валацуга

Rustam lies there among the dead and dying, struggling to breathe and becoming soaked with blood, until the butchers and their dogs leave the forest. He softly calls Roman’s name, but there’s no answer. When he was holding Roman’s hand earlier, he felt the pulse fading.

To give Roman some dignity in death, Rustam removes the gag. He kisses his cousin-in-law goodbye before he claws his way to the top of the pit. Rustam is covered in blood, sand, dirt, and sweat when the ground is finally beneath his feet again.

Copyright Andrej Kuźniečyk; Source

Rustam smoothes the sand over the top of the pit, to make it look like nothing were disturbed, and goes to his father’s house to hide. The new Moon in the sky gives him the protection of extra darkness.

Rustam, most of the younger members of his family, and his old father escape to Poland in four small groups. His father stays in Kraków with two of Rustam’s expatriate siblings, but everyone else goes to America.

For years, Rustam suffers with PTSD and has several strong triggers. To try to get it out of his system, he creates a graphic novel about his experience.