WeWriWa—Precious protection

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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.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Ráhel and Dániel Kovacs, eight and four years old, escaped from a death train under cover of night and found shelter in a nearby convent. They’ve been put in a hidden room upstairs, and a doctor performed a tracheostomy on Dániel, who has diphtheria.

After being assigned the Polish names Liwia and Fryderyk, the Polish forms of their middle names, a nun asked where they got the rosary and scapular they arrived with.

“A very nice lady gave them to us before we got off the train. She taught me four Catholic prayers, and taught my brother a very easy prayer for little children. Her parents converted before she was born, but the Germans thought she was still Jewish.”

“Oh, good, you already know some prayers. Some of the other people we’ve hidden didn’t know anything. What’s your dolly’s name?”

“Ambrózia. My sister bought her in a big store in Budapest. She came from France.”

Dr. Kaczka smiled.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene (and chapter).

“Well, let’s hope she’s your ambrosia and confers the same kind of protection on you as it did on the Greek deities. No one can live forever, but living a long life is good enough.”

After Dr. Kaczka and the nuns had gone, Ráhel leaned over and whispered the Sh’ma and its first paragraph in Dániel’s ear, just as Mirjam had commanded. She also added the last paragraph, and then repeated it in Hungarian, adding the concluding line of the Our Father afterwards.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these words with which I charge you this day. Teach them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand, and let them serve as a symbol before your eyes; inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Thus you shall remember to observe all my commandments and to be holy to your God. I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God. And deliver us from evil. Amen.”

WeWriWa—Farewell blessings

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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.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Mirjam Kovács, a graduate student in Budapest, fled back to her hometown of Abony immediately after the Nazi invasion in March 1944. Though this put her in considerable danger, it also enabled her to find a way to send her youngest siblings to safety. Even in the death train, she still hasn’t given up hope.

The escape she engineers is inspired by the 2006 German film The Last Train (Der Letzte Zug). With help from other passengers, a rock was transformed into an axe which increased the size of a pre-existing hole in the floor. Now some of the young men on the train are raising a loud disturbance to mask the escape.

Margaréta is a Catholic woman who taught the children some basic prayers in Latin and Hungarian while they were in the second ghetto. Both of her parents converted from Judaism as teenagers, but that didn’t spare her from deportation.

Dutch mosaic depicting Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing; Copyright Kleuske

Mirjam raised her hands, putting spaces between her thumbs, first two fingers, and last two fingers, as Ráhel and Dániel clung to her legs and the young men continued screaming for water, bread, and air. She almost tripped over her words in her race to say the priestly blessing as quickly as possible. “May God bless you and keep you. May God cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God lift up his face unto you and give you peace.”

Margaréta removed her scapular and put it around Ráhel’s neck, with one segment hanging on her back and the other on her chest. “I don’t want anyone to take this away from me at the factory. Anyone who wears the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel will be protected by the Holy Virgin. Think of her as a loving universal mother, not a religious figure.” She pulled off her wooden rosary and put that around Dániel’s by now rather swollen neck.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“You can sleep with this under your pillow, and squeeze it in your hand when you’re scared.”

“Bend your knees and jump,” Mirjam instructed, barely able to make herself heard over the continued screams from both inside and outside the train. “Don’t let go of Dani’s hand. We’ll find each other after the war.”

“Be good to the people who take you in,” Mrs. Kovács said. “Never forget who you really are or how much I love you.”

Ráhel jumped through the hole as their German guards stormed up to the train. Mirjam handed Dániel down next, his teddybear still in his feverish arms.

“You’re not getting any water or bread!” a reedy soldier shouted. “We’re giving you one more minute to be quiet, and if you can’t shut up, you’ll all be shot!”

WeWriWa—The Smalls’ Shavuot menu

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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.

This week’s snippet comes from Chapter 19, “Happy Shavuot,” of the book formerly known as The Very Next and published last spring as Movements in the Symphony of 1939. Last week I described the table itself, and now you’ll get to read about all the delicious foods on offer. I know many people really enjoy my food-themed scenes.

Cinnimin Filliard’s father helped to bring a German Jewish family to America from Amsterdam in 1938, and they’ve been living in the guesthouse ever since. Their youngest child, Sparky (real name Katherine, changed from Katharina), shares Cinni’s attic bedroom in the main house, and has become her best friend.

Cinni, who has no love lost for her family’s nominal religion of Methodism and finds Judaism much more fun and colorful, is thrilled to be invited to celebrate Shavuot with the Smalls (originally the Brandts). Her friend Kit’s father is also a guest.

Just prior to this excerpt, Cinni saw strange things that looked like bread doughnuts on a silver platter, and Mrs. Small explained they’re bagels from Philadelphia, to be served with lox, cream cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Cinni hoped her eyes weren’t wider than her stomach as she began heaping her plate high with a little of everything offered. She couldn’t complain for lack of meat when she had salmon broiled in butter, bagels loaded with the promised toppings, plenty of smoked salmon by itself, scalloped potatoes cooked in cheese, mushrooms stuffed with chopped walnuts, garden salad with chunks of goat cheese, fruit salad with shredded coconut flakes, and artichoke quiche. There was so much sumptuous food from which to feast, Cinni hardly cared there were some artichokes in the mix. If only her mother cooked such wonderful food. Mrs. Filliard put in some effort for Christmas and Easter, but didn’t offer anything nearly so grand.

“Which cheesecake would you like to try first?” Sparky asked after the supper plates and silverware were cleared away.

“Which cheesecake? You mean you’ve got more’n one? Lemme have a slice of all of ’em!”

Cinni’s eyes almost fell out of her head as Mrs. Small and Gary brought out cheesecake after cheesecake—the normal plain variety, chocolate, chocolate chip, lemon, orange, strawberry, raspberry, double chocolate.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Her mouth watered even more when Mr. Small and Barry lugged out canisters of ice-cream and bowls of toppings, followed by even more desserts upon which to feast.

“My folks never serve nearly so much dessert. I’m gonna weigh twenty more pounds after tonight.”

“We’re having ice-cream sundaes at synagogue after services tomorrow,” Sparky said. “Plus lots more cheesecake.”

“I almost wish I could tag along!”

WeWriWa—The Smalls’ Shavuot table

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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.

Because the holiday of Shavuot is this weekend, I’m sharing something from Chapter 19, “Happy Shavuot,” of the book formerly known as The Very Next and published last spring as Movements in the Symphony of 1939. It took over a year after the e-book release, but now it’s finally available in print as well.

Cinnimin Filliard’s father helped to bring a German Jewish family to America from Amsterdam in 1938, and they’ve been living in the guesthouse ever since. Their youngest child, Sparky (real name Katherine, changed from Katharina), shares Cinni’s attic bedroom in the main house, and has become her best friend.

Cinni, who has no love lost for her family’s nominal religion of Methodism and finds Judaism much more fun and colorful, is thrilled to be invited to celebrate Shavuot with the Smalls (originally the Brandts). Her friend Kit’s father is also a guest.

The Smalls had set their table as nicely as they’d set it for the other holidays Cinni had joined them for. This time, they had a yellow tablecloth with evergreen-colored embroidery, and white china with green leaves around the perimeter. Cinni also liked their centerpieces, several vases of red and yellow tulips. They were humbler flowers than the roses and baby’s breath they’d had for Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. She didn’t like bouquets all that much, since they seemed such a waste of money when they wilted before long, but if flowers had to be used, she preferred down-to-earth ones like tulips and wildflowers.

“You ain’t using your other fancy china this time?” Cinni asked as she pulled out a chair between Barry and Sparky. “You’re lucky you had enough money for more’n one set. I don’t think my family had more’n one even when we were rich. One set is all you really need, unless you’re uppity rich snobs like the Hitchcocks or Malspurs.”

“My family has several sets of tableware!” Mr. Green protested.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“I hope you don’t think we’re uppity. Having more than enough money to afford things like that means more to me than you’ll ever know.”

“Oh, no, I wasn’t talking about nice rich people like you. I meant snobs like the Hitchcocks and Unicorn-Mitchells.”

Gary smirked. “I’m glad the Unicorn-Mitchells go to private school, since I’d never be able to keep a straight face if one of them were in my classes. Is the first part of their name really Unicorn, and why did no one ever think to change it in all these years?”

“Part of their family tree must be German, Austrian, or Swiss–German,” Mr. Small said. “Einhorn is a fairly common surname, and means ‘unicorn.’ Or they could be Dutch, since Eenhorn is also a fairly common surname. I assume someone changed it after immigration, though I’m not so keen to blend into the host culture I’d change my name to Unicorn.”

Jewish Ukraine (Єврейська Україна)

Great Choral Synagogue of Kyiv, Copyright Nick Grapsy

There has been a Jewish community in Ukraine since ancient times, starting with people from Hellenized Asia Minor and the Bosporus. Archaeological excavations show evidence dating back to at least the fourth century BCE. Many were traders.

During the Kyivan Rus era (879–1240), communities developed in Kyiv, the Crimea, and the Ukrainian area of the Caucasus. More people arrived as refugees from murderous Crusaders in other parts of Europe. A community in Galicia, in western Ukraine, was first mentioned in 1030.

Because antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred, there were several violent pogroms in the 12th century. Reportedly, we were kicked out of Kyiv during the reign of Grand Prince Vladimir II, though no documentary evidence survives.

Former Karaite synagogue in Kyiv, Copyright Posterrr

Former synagogue of Kamyanets-Podilskyy, Copyright Neovitaha777

Due to antisemitism, there were many restrictions on employment, residence, finances, housing, land ownership, movement, etc. Trade, handicrafts, and usury were among the few jobs open to us.

The Jewish Ukrainian community suffered equally alongside Christian Ukrainians during the endless reign of terror by the Crimean Tatars. Many were sold into slavery.

Though antisemitism was unfortunately unavoidable, the areas of Ukraine controlled by the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth grew to be one of the world’s largest, most vibrant Jewish communities.

Former synagogue of Vinnytsya, Copyright ЯдвигаВереск (Yadvyha Veresk)

Great Synagogue of Lutsk, Copyright Robert Niedźwiedzki

By the time of the Khmelnytskyy Uprising began in 1648, there were over 50,000 Jews in Ukraine. Though the Cossacks first and foremost wanted to liberate their land from foreign rulers (Tatars, Poles, Lithuanians), they also went on antisemitic rampages during these uprisings. Tens of thousands of Jews, possibly up to 100,000, were murdered, and 300 communities were destroyed.

To avoid attracting antisemitic attention, public merrymaking was banned, and stories about pogroms swept through Europe and created a climate of fear. This gave rise to the Messianic cult of Shabatai Tzvi, and an increased interest in mysticism.

Former synagogue of Hrymayliv, Copyright Влад Гуменюк (Vlad Humenyuk)

The 1649 Treaty of Zboriv forbade Jews to live in Cossack-controlled areas. These cruel restrictions were later upheld by Khmelnytskyy’s son Yuriy and in the first Cossack constitution of 1710.

More pogroms followed during the many other Cossack uprisings of the 17th and 18th centuries. Though most Ukrainian Christians have always viewed Cossacks as great national heroes, the Jewish community feels much differently about them.

Yegiye Kapay Synagogue in Yevpatoriya, Copyright Eugenmakh

Merchant Synagogue in Yevpatoriya, Copyright Mitte27

The Second and Third Partitions of Poland in 1793 and 1795 brought a large number of Jews into the Russian Empire. Because she didn’t want us living in her empire, Catherine the Great established the Pale of Settlement, which included all of Ukraine.

Due to many antisemitic restrictions, most people in the Pale were poor, and they were subjected to constant pogroms, esp. after Tsar Aleksandr III came to the throne in 1881. Only conversion to Russian Orthodoxy would end this mistreatment. As a result, a lot of people immigrated to the U.S., pre-State Israel, Canada, and Western Europe.

Entrance gate to former Karaite synagogues in Yevpatoriya, Copyright A.Savin (WikiCommons)

Another unending anguish was, under Tsar Nicholas I, compulsory military service. Many boys were brutally kidnapped, forced to serve in the army for over 20 years, force-converted, made to eat unkosher food, and forbidden contact with their families.

Despite this difficult life, robust social welfare and educational systems arose. Chasidic life also flourished, with many dynasties all across Ukraine.

Tempel Synagogue of Ivano-Frankivsk, Copyright Folkerman

Former Great Synagogue of Sharhorod, Copyright Михайло Потупчик (Mykhaylo Potupchyk)

Pogroms continued under the rule of the inept Nicholas II, in cities including Kishinev (1903 and 1905), Kyiv (1905), and Odesa (1905). These orgies of murder, violence, and rape were led by the Russian ultranationalist Black Hundreds movement. In October 1905 alone, 690 pogroms were carried out.

There were also blood libel cases, most famously the Menahem Mendel Beilis case of 1911–13. Miraculously, Mr. Beilis was acquitted.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community of Galicia, part of Austria–Hungary, fared much more happily during the same period. Though antisemitism still existed, they had legal emancipation and weren’t forced to live in poverty in isolated towns.

Jewish cemetery and funeral chapel in Chernivtsi, Copyright Alfred Löhr

During the Russian Civil War of 1917–21 and its spinoff wars, up to 250,000 Jews in the Russian Empire were murdered, including at least 100,000 in Ukraine. Most of these pogroms were carried out by the radical Directorate, whose ranks included the infamous Symon Petlyura (another historical figure regarded much differently by Jewish and Christian Ukrainians). Many miscellaneous bands also went on violent sprees, as well as the White Army and Red Army.

A different kind of oppression arose during the Soviet era, as all religion was outlawed, and even secular Jewish culture was only allowed for tokenistic reasons and in very limited amounts. Hundreds of thousands of people immigrated to Poland in 1921.

Mikvah of Mikolayiv, Copyright LXNDR

Ukraine lost 70% of her Jewish population, up to 1.6 million people, during the Shoah. Most were murdered by Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing squads, and never saw the inside of a camp. As in all Nazi-occupied nations, there were local collaborators (like the infamous John Demjanjuk). Some were motivated by antisemitism, while others were coerced, just wanted money to feed their families, or saw the Nazis as liberators after living under Soviet rule for so long.

However, the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians (4.5 million) fought against the Nazis, in both the Red Army and as partisans, and as of 1 January 2021, Yad Vashem has recognized 2,673 Ukrainians as Righteous Among the Nations. Ukraine is #4 among most-represented countries.

Memorial park in Khmilnyk, Copyright Posterrr

After WWII, border changes added Galicia and Carpathian Rus to Ukraine’s territory. In 1959, the Jewish population was 840,000, down from 2.7 million in 1941. The population steadily shrank during the Cold War, coupled with continued religious persecution.

Today there are an estimated 200,000 Jews in Ukraine, and centuries of difficult interfaith relations have finally begun to improve. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Jewish life has undergone a huge renaissance in Ukraine. The country also has a Jewish president who was elected with 73% of the vote and now has over 90% approval ratings.

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