WeWriWa—A bad first impression continues


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.

I’m currently sharing from my recently-released How Kätchen Became Sparky, a book which I’ll always think of as The Very First, its title for many years. It’s set from August 1938–January 1939, as new immigrant Katharina Brandt, now called Katherine Small and nicknamed Sparky, determinedly seeks to become a real American girl without compromising her Judaism or German and Dutch customs. Meanwhile, her new best friend, Cinnimin Filliard, learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

Sparky and her family are attending services at Beth Kehillah with her family on their first Sabbath in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, they don’t mesh well with these second-generation Americans.

My own prayerbook, bought in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

The Smalls headed inside and found seats in the back. A few people introduced themselves, but stepped back after hearing the Smalls’ accents. Sparky stared into her prayerbook and Bible for the duration of the service, glad they were in both Hebrew and English instead of only English. If only the English in both books were modern, not the Elizabethan English no one used anymore. Sparky had never heard anyone using words like “thee,” “thine,” “wert,” “wast,” “dost,” “havest,” and “hath.” Maybe this was part of the reason why Cinni and most of her friends hated going to church.

After services, people began talking to their friends and drifting off. Only a few congregants approached the Smalls.

“Are you visiting Atlantic City, or did you just move to town?” a woman in a blue satin dress asked.

“We recently immigrated from The Netherlands,” Mr. Small said.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow.

“Our original homeland is Germany, but we moved to Amsterdam after the Nazis came to power.”

“Why would you leave Holland or Germany?” the woman’s husband asked in Yiddish. “Those are nice countries. They’re hardly places like the old Russian Empire.”

“The writing’s on the wall.” Mr. Small responded in German, which was close enough to Yiddish for hand-grenades. “If we’d stayed, we would’ve been in danger from the Nazis. I don’t trust that madman will stop at Germany and Austria. He might seize more countries if no one stops him.”

“That’s fantasy talk,” a woman in a yellow silk dress scoffed, also in Yiddish. “You uprooted your lives for nothing, not once, but twice. Once the Nazis are voted out, you’ll feel very foolish.”

WeWriWa—Unexpected transportation


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


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.


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.

St. Francis Xavier Church and Xavier High School

In the summer of 1847, English-born Jesuit priest John Larkin was dispatched to create a church and school in New York City. He initially worked in Fordham, the Bronx, but Archbishop John Hughes thought he had what it took to survive that “rough, extraordinary city.”

It took an entire day to travel to downtown Manhattan, and Father Larkin only had fifty cents ($15.77 today).

The next day, Mass was offered for the success of this mission. In attendance was a newly-immigrated French muralist who wanted to thank God for his family’s safe journey. After Mass, he told Father Larkin he’d heard U.S. banks weren’t reliable, and asked how to keep his money safe.

This was no small sum of money, but $5,000 ($157,730.49 today).

Copyright Kwok-Chi Ng

Divine Providence continued shining for Father Larkin. A Protestant church between Bowery and Elizabeth Streets had just gone on sale for $18,000 ($567,829.76 today) after a big schism, and asked $5,000 as a down payment.

Father Larkin promised the good Frenchman security for his money in return for a mortgage on that church, and the church was dedicated in October. Sadly, it burnt to the ground in January, and Father Larkin was asked to return to Fordham.

Despite this tragedy, the congregation rallied behind him to rebuild their church. A surprising source of spiritual fortitude also came from a seemingly chance encounter in The Bowery.

Copyright Scry Photo

Shortly after the fire, a woman selling apples approached him and said, “Well, Father Larkin, so your church is burnt; the Lord be praised!”

Not quite sure what he was hearing, he said, “‘The Lord be praised!’ Are you then glad of it?”

“Oh, God forbid! But then we must give God glory for everything.”

Father Larkin realized she was right, as painful as this situation was, and resolved to take this lesson to heart. The apple seller then lamented being unable to donate any money, since she was a poor widow with five kids, but insisted he take her two finest apples.

And from that moment on, the congregation endeavoured to give God glory for everything, good things as well as bad.

Copyright Beyond My Ken

Father Larkin refused to abandon his congregation, and held Mass in borrowed spaces till 1851, when a new church, designed by William Rodrigue, opened on West 16th St., next to the old church. During this time, Father Larkin declined an offer to become Bishop of Toronto.

Tragedy struck again on 8 March 1877. During a women’s mission, a fire erupted in the packed sanctuary, and panic broke out. Six women and one child died, and the church was gutted.

This happened in part because the church had become too small to comfortably accommodate the entire congregation, since so many people from Catholic countries were immigrating in that era. A new building was needed anyway.

Copyright Steven Bornholtz

In May 1878, the cornerstone for a new church was laid immediately to the west, with 5,000 in attendance. Famous architect Patrick Charles Keely designed it in Roman Basilica style, with a bluish-grey Neo-Baroque façade and gabled portico. His frequent collaborators the Morgan Brothers designed the stained-glass windows in Pre-Raphaelite style.

William Lamprecht, the country’s leading ecclesiastical painter of the era, made almost 50 murals. The beautiful marble, in a rainbow of colors, came from Italy; the onyx came from Mexico; Massachusetts provided granite; and New Hampshire gave the cornices and columns.

This new building could hold 2,000. The total cost was $600,000 ($15,216,352.94 today).

Archbishop Michael Corrigan dedicated the completed church on 3 December 1882.

Copyright Americasroof at English Wikipedia

Every Catholic church has a school, and St. Francis Xavier Church has Xavier High School, also founded by Father Larkin. When he founded what was originally called the College of St. Francis Xavier, he only had five cents left ($1.58 today).

At the time, Father Larkin was also a professor at St. John’s College in Rosehill Manor, now Fordham University in the Bronx. His two schools played the first collegiate baseball game in 1859. Fordham won 33-11.

In 1861, after Father Larkin’s death, the high school was chartered by the state.

Copyright Ajay Suresh

The National Guard began military training at Xavier High School in 1886, and membership became mandatory in 1892. In 1897, collegiate and secondary studies were separated into different departments. The former closed in 1912.

In 1935, the student regiment became Junior ROTC, and the school was declared a military institute in 1968. Not till 1971 did participation in ROTC become optional.

I’ve not used either school nor church in my writing to date, but now I’m quite eager to make St. Francis Xavier the church of my Novak family when they move to New York in 1952.

More information:






St. Nicholas Park and St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church

St. Nicholas Park was created in the intersection of Harlem, Hamilton Heights, and Manhattanville in 1895. Its borders are 127th St. on the south, 141st St. on the north, St. Nicholas Avenue on the east, and St. Nicholas Terrace on the west.

The park was once the site of the Croton Aqueduct, which was built from 1837–42 and dramatically improved city sanitation and home plumbing. Prior to the aqueduct, there were many epidemics and a high mortality rate caused by tainted water. Wealthy people who lived in private houses were also able to start using bathtubs and sinks with running water, and public bathhouses for the masses came into being.

Less happily, many cellars were flooded due to a sharp decrease in usage of city wells and a subsequent rise in the water table. Sewers were then built on residential streets.

The New Croton Aqueduct, which is still in use, was built from 1885–90.

135th St. New Croton Aqueduct Gatehouse, Copyright Midmodsquad

More land was acquired from 1900–06, and creation of the park began in earnest in 1906. Parks Commissioner and landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. took charge of the design, saying, “[a] dominant note must be followed with a harmonious treatment, a high hill made higher, a rugged slope more rugged, a deep valley made deeper, thus invariably following nature’s lead.”

In 1909, the park expanded downward to 128th St. This new area included The Point of Rocks, where General Washington stood during the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. The expansion increased the park’s size to 23 acres.

A playground was added in 1931, within which was a garden where farm produce was grown for educational purposes.

Since 2008, Hamilton Grange, the 1802 home of Alexander Hamilton, was moved 500 feet into the park. Prior, it stood on Convent Avenue on the north, facing 141st St. Its current location is within the borders of Hamilton’s original 32-acre estate.

Much of the City College campus is just across St. Nicholas Terrace to the west. Three churches also border the park—St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, St. James Presbyterian Church, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.

Hamilton Grange, Copyright Ajay Suresh

My character Nestor Ugolnikov, a former Marine who lost his leg at Iwo Jima, is walking through the park with two bags of groceries on the eve of Orthodox Easter 1949 when he has a tumble in a patch of mud. His prosthesis, which he forgot to fasten tightly enough, falls off and is soon stolen by three mean little boys. Even worse, it begins raining.

His future wife Yustina Yeltsina-Baronova comes to his rescue by rebagging his groceries and getting a cop to search for the leg and give him a ride home. That December, they break up in St. Nicholas Park, but are soon back together and engaged, when Nestor finally realizes Yustina loves him just as he is and doesn’t care he’s missing a leg.

More information:



Copyright Beyond My Ken

St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church was built in 1859 on 266 Mulberry St. in Gingerbread Gothic style. It began life as the Chancery Office Building of the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and was designed by James Renwick, Jr. and William Rodrigue, who also designed the new St. Patrick’s.

In 1936, the building took on a new life as a Russian Catholic church under the leadership of Father Andrew Rogosh, who arrived in New York on Christmas Day 1935 in the hopes of establishing an émigré apostolate. New York was one of the largest White Russian enclaves.

Though the disgustingly-named “Emergency Immigration Act” of 1921 and its follow-up, even more ridiculously xenophobia quota of 1924 made it nearly impossible for people from Eastern Europe to come to the U.S., there were some lucky people allowed to immigrate despite the strict, fear-fueled red tape.

Father Rogosh provided spiritual guidance and comfort to these new immigrants who’d been driven from their homeland by the Russian Revolution, Civil War, and Stalin’s goons. He often travelled to DP camps in Europe as part of his ministry.

Over the years, many people of all faiths and ethnicities came to St. Michael’s to hear the beautiful Russian-style Byzantine Rite service.

Sadly, gentrifiers drove up the property values, and the community had to relocate to St. Catherine of Siena on East 68th St. in 2019.

My character Varya Koneva visits the church after work in May 1952 and speaks with Father Rogosh about her spiritual dilemma re: a looming interfaith marriage. She’s engaged to a Polish Catholic (from the family who saved her niece Darya’s life during the war), and they have to choose a church for their wedding. Varya isn’t particularly attached to Orthodoxy, but doesn’t want to be excommunicated for marrying in a Catholic church.

Father Rogosh says there are few significant differences between Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism, and encourages her to try out St. Michael’s as her new spiritual home.

More information: