WeWriWa—Unexpected transportation

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, has just arrived at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. It’s quite a shock to see not everyone walks to synagogue. Though the Conservative Movement issued a Responsa permitting driving on the Sabbath for that sole purpose in 1950, the official position in 1938 forbade it.

Sparky’s eyes widened when she saw a few people getting out of cabs, and a few more arriving on bicycles. “Mutti, Vati, are you sure this isn’t a Reform congregation?” she whispered.

“The people we spoke with gave us a detailed list of all the synagogues and other Jewish establishments in this city and the nearby suburbs,” Mrs. Small said. “Beth Kehillah was listed as Conservative. A few people back home probably secretly drove or rode bicycles too. The polite thing to do is pretend you didn’t see it. Embarrassing someone is compared to murder.”

“If they don’t live in a city with a synagogue, why don’t they spend the weekend here at a hotel or with friends?”

The eight lines end here. A few more follow to close this portion.

“That’s between them and God. I don’t approve of it either, but perhaps this is the only way they can get any Jewish connection in their lives. Not everyone is lucky enough to come from a religious family or community, or to have strong personal beliefs to sustain oneself without family or community support.”

“They’re not getting out of a cab or parking a car a few blocks away and walking the rest of the way so no one sees them!” Gary protested. “They’re letting everyone see how assimilated they are!”

“People in America are different,” Mr. Small said. “We’ll serve as an example to them. They might be inspired to become more religious.”

WeWriWa—Arriving at Beth Kehillah

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

The book formerly known as The Very First released last week in e-book format. The print version, which has a different cover, will be ready for release by next Sunday.

It’s now the first Sabbath in Atlantic City for the family of Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky. At this time, August 1938, Atlantic City had a huge, vibrant Jewish community, nothing like its shrunken state today. But, as the Smalls are soon to discover, they don’t fit in with these second-generation Americans.

Source

Though there were over a dozen synagogues in Atlantic City, there were relatively few Conservative ones. Most of the others were either Reform or Orthodox, frequently offshoots of the city’s two original synagogues representing those denominations. For their first service in Atlantic City, Mr. and Mrs. Small had chosen Beth Kehillah on 901 Pacific Avenue, a somewhat large building with several different types of bricks on the façade, stained glass windows, and two columns in front of the entryway.

“I hope no one thinks we’re rude for not coming last night,” Sparky said as the building came more sharply into view. “I don’t want anyone to think we’re the kind of people who only go to one Sabbath service instead of both.”

“We’ll go to both next week,” Mr. Small promised. “I doubt anyone will look badly upon us for wanting a quiet Friday night our first Sabbath in our new home. If America is anything like Germany and The Netherlands, you and your mother will also be among the few regular female attendees.”

Sparky held back from the large crowd milling about outside. There were a lot of young people among this crowd, all dressed like proper Americans.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow:

The adults also dressed in modern American fashions, and held themselves with such confidence. These weren’t people who needed to worry about impressing potential new friends, since they were already secure, established members of the community. They took their American status for granted.

Katz’s Delicatessen

Copyright Beyond My Ken

In 1888, Katz’s Delicatessen began its life on Ludlow St. in the Lower East Side as Iceland Brothers. In 1903, Willy Katz joined the business, and it was renamed Iceland & Katz. In 1910, Willy’s cousin Ben came aboard and bought out the Icelands. Katz’s Delicatessen was officially born.

In April 1917, landlord Harry Tarowsky bought into the partnership. The deli was forced to relocate across the street due to subway construction, though its Ludlow entrance remained the same. Barrels of pickles and meat were stored at a vacant lot on Houston St. (The Manhattan street is pronounced HOUSE-ton, not like the city in Texas.)

From 1946–49, that Houston St. vacant lot added the current façade, and the operation shifted from Ludlow St.

Copyright TaurusEmerald

The Lower East Side is famous as a huge immigrant hub in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, esp. in regards to its Jewish population. So many immigrants lived in the LES, it’s a popular misconception that that was the ONLY place immigrants lived.

Some people expressed great surprise to learn only one branch of my family tree lived in NYC after immigrating, and that they barely spent any time there. Based on their own family histories and the popular narrative, they believed all immigrants settled in the city.

However, many immigrants did live in the LES, and Katz’s became an important community meeting-place. During the heyday of Yiddish theatre, the deli was frequented by actors, comedians, and singers. On Fridays, everyone convened on Katz’s for franks and beans.

Copyright Shinya Suzuki

During WWII, in response to the owners’ sons serving in the Army, the company’s slogan became “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.” This slogan was coined by Rose Tarowsky, whose son Izzy was a bomber pilot in the South Pacific.

When Willy Katz passed away, his son Lenny took over. Then, in 1980, both Harry Tarowsky and Ben Katz passed, leaving the deli to Izzy Tarowsky and Artie Maxstein (Ben’s son-in-law). Because this second generation had no offspring of their own to bequeath Katz’s to, they let their good friend and restaurateur Martin Dell, his chef son Alan, and his son-in-law Fred Austin buy into the partnership in 1988, on the deli’s centenary.

In late 2009, Alan’s son Jake officially joined the team and is now the acting head.

Copyright Beleg Langbogen

In connection with Katz’s 125th anniversary in 2013, a pop-up art gallery opened next door, featuring artwork by locals. The art rotates on a monthly basis.

Continuing the tradition begun during WWII, Katz’s continues to send gift packages to troops overseas.

In 2017, Katz’s finally opened a second location in Downtown Brooklyn.

Copyright Urbankayaker

Patrons are handed a numbered, printed ticket upon entering. While they get food from the various stations throughout the deli, employees keep a running tab. If one loses a ticket, a $50 fine is added to the bill. Management wants to encourage patrons to go back through the store to try to find the ticket to prevent theft.

Sadly, Katz’s is no longer kosher. Some of the ingredients start out kosher, but aren’t used, prepared, or served according to the laws of Kashrut. Their biggest violation is serving meat and dairy together. Not all the meat is certified kosher anymore either. Though Katz’s never pretended to be strictly kosher, it wasn’t that bad!

Copyright Dizzledan

Copyright City Foodsters

My characters Igor Konev and Violetta Likachëva go to Katz’s for several dates. It’s conveniently located, since Violetta lives in Greenwich Village, and Igor lives with his great-aunt in the northern Lower East Side (the area which later seceded as the so-called East Village).

Jewish Theological Seminary

The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the flagship North American higher educational institute of the Conservative Movement, started its life in 1886 as an Orthodox school. Italian-born Rabbi Sabato Morais of Philadelphia was chosen as president on account of his bridge-building and moderation between the then-two major factions of Judaism.

At that point in history, Reform Judaism was nothing like it is today, with its increasing reclamation of traditional practices. They radically rejected almost everything in pursuit of “changing with the times,” blending into Gentile society, and seemingly being oppositional for the mere sake of being oppositional.

Rabbi Morais was once among Reform ranks, but took a hard, fast step backwards after the infamous 1885 Pittsburgh Platform which called for a rejection of traditional beliefs and practices. The equally-infamous 1883 Trefa Banquet in Cincinnati didn’t help matters either.

Judaism hasn’t survived and thrived so long because of warm, fuzzy feelings and nostalgia for matzah ball soup. It survived because people followed the Torah in all aspects of their lives. Evolving with the times shouldn’t come at the cost of becoming a secular lox and bageler who only goes to shul thrice a year.

When the Jewish Theological Seminary Association began, it was Orthodox. The faculty modelled the curriculum and philosophy after that of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau in Germany (now Wrocław, Poland). Zecharias Frankel, president of the German JTS, was the founder of Positive–Historical Judaism (now Conservative Judaism).

In 1894, the first graduate, Rabbi Joseph Hertz, was ordained. He served as Chief Rabbi of the U.K. from 1913–46.

Rabbi Hertz in 1913

After Rabbi Morais’s 1897 passing, the JTS fell into financial difficulties. Help arrived in October 1901, when the school was invited to join a new organisation called the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The incorporation took place 14 April 1902, and they received a $500,000 fund and a better building in the Bronx’s University Heights.

On 15 September 1902, the reorganised seminary opened. Presently, Rabbi Solomon Schechter became president. Because of his passionate advocacy for what soon became Conservative Judaism, many rabbis left. Rabbi Schechter fired others for lacking academic qualifications.

The Orthodox Union maintained ties with JTS for many decades, and many of their rabbis taught there. During this era, there were few meaningful differences between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism.

Rabbi Schechter

On 23 February 1913, the United Synagogue of America, now the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), was founded as an organisation of synagogues who follow that denomination.

In the early 20th century, JTS boasted many venerable professors in fields like Talmud, history, rabbinic literature, the Bible, and Hebrew. Though the rabbinic school had excellent academic standards, there wasn’t much time devoted to practical rabbinical training.

In 1909, a teaching school was added. Most students were women, since teaching was one of the few so-called “respectable” professions open to women in the era, and because the Teachers Institute was one of the only schools offering women an advanced education in Jewish studies.

Both bachelor’s and master’s degrees were offered, in schools which respectively became the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies and the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education.

In 1930, under the presidency of Cyrus Adler, a new building was commissioned at 122nd St. and Broadway, in neo-Colonial style and with a corner tower. The next year, the Seminary College of Jewish Studies was created for students who wanted college-level courses but not teaching careers.

Louis Finkelstein became chancellor in 1940 and made significant strides towards bringing modern Judaism to the U.S. public, including:

The Eternal Light, which began on NBC radio in 1944 and later moved to TV, running till 1989. It won many awards and had many famous guests, both Jewish and Gentile.

Camp Ramah, which began in Conover, Wisconsin in 1947. It now has ten sleepaway camps and five daycamps.

A satellite campus in Yerushalayim.

A cantorial school.

The Leadership Training Fellowship for students interested in Jewish public service.

The Universal Brotherhood program, later expanded into the Institute for Religious Studies and the Herbert H. Lehman Institute of Ethics.

The Institute for Religious and Social Studies, which fostered interfaith dialogues. In 1986, it was renamed in Finkelstein’s honor.

The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, now the Graduate School of JTS.

Appointing many top-notch professors, the most famous being Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Sadly, Finkelstein’s tenure also included a fire on 16 April 1966, which destroyed 70,000 books and damaged many others. Thankfully, the rare books and manuscripts weren’t stored in the library, and thus were spared. The 35,000 books which were saved are now being catalogued and restored.

JTS began ordaining women as rabbis and cantors in 1983, under the chancellorship of Gerson D. Cohen. Under the leadership of Ismar Schorsch (1986–2006), the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education was created, and many new advanced programs were added in the master’s programs.

Over its 134 years, JTS has produced countless rabbis, cantors, teachers, and scholars. Starting in the 1980s, some of my Atlantic City characters attend its rabbinical and cantorial schools.

Writing about Birkat HaChamah

Birkat HaChamah by the Kotel (Western Wall), 8 April 2009, Copyright Lipaphotography

Birkat HaChamah, the Blessing of the Sun, is a special mitzvah that only happens once every 28 years. It’s happened twice in my lifetime so far, 1981 and 2009. The average person might get to perform it 3-4 times in a lifetime.

The next time it’ll happen is 2037, and then 2065, 2093, and 2121. If I’m blessed enough to live to 2093, I’ll be 113. I’d like to make it to 2100, if only to say I lived in three centuries.

Birkat HaChamah falls out when the Sun completes its cycle, always on a Tuesday at sundown. However, it’s postponed till Wednesday morning, when the Sun is visible.

According to traditional Jewish theology, this is when the Sun returns to the position it was in on the non-literal fourth day of creation. Many scholars and rabbis, Orthodox as well as progressive, have interpreted the Torah’s concept of creation days as lasting more than 24 hours.

Sunrise over Yerushalayim on Birkat HaChamah 2009, Copyright Bcohn

One looks at the Sun on the horizon while reciting the blessing ברוך אתה ה’ אלהינו מלך העולם עושה מעשה בראשית, “Blessèd are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Maker of the works of Creation.”

Some people modify the Hebrew to use female language (e.g., Malka [Queen] vs. Melech [King]). Hashem has both male and female attributes, invoked at different times. When I say the famous Avinu Malkeynu (Our Father, Our King) prayer on the High Holy Days, I alternate the first lines as “Our Father, Our King” and “Our Mother, Our Queen.”

It’s a very brief service, with the first six lines of Psalm 148 before the Sun blessing, followed by Psalms 19, 121, and 150, a Talmud passage about Birkat HaChamah, Psalm 167, the Aleynu prayer, and Mourner’s Kaddish.

Preparing for Birkat HaChamah in 2009 in Yerushalayim, Copyright Chadica

Since this is such a rare mitzvah, everyone is urged to participate in it, even small children. This isn’t something like missing Shabbos or holiday services, where there’s another chance next week or year.

If the Sun is completely blocked, minority opinions allow the blessing to be recited regardless. We should always encourage people to do a mitzvah, esp. considering this one only comes once every 28 years, and tomorrow is never guaranteed.

I wrote a short story called “Birkat HaChamah,” set 7.5 billion years in the future, in the days leading up to the final Birkat HaChamah ever. It ends as the subgiant, red giant, maximum radius Sun swallows the Moon and Earth, shortly after a super-elder, at least 10,000 years old, pronounces the blessing from the final rocket to evacuate.

Red giant Sun and carbonized Earth, Copyright Fsgregs