WeWriWa—The awkward first impression concludes

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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’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, 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. When several congregants try to make conversation after services, their differences become increasingly magnified. Mrs. Small and Sparky were just advised to stop dressing so modestly, and Mrs. Small was told not to cover her hair with a tichel (scarf).

“Thank you for that unsolicited advice.” Mrs. Small forced a smile. “My family will be going home for lunch now. I don’t suppose there’s a hospitality committee arranging for Sabbath meal invitations for newcomers.”

“What would be the point of that?” the second husband asked. “If there is one, we’ve never cared enough to inquire. Your family is too religious for this congregation. You’d be better-off attending an Orthodox synagogue.”

Sparky was awash in humiliation as her family made their way out.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to finish this section.

“It’s only the first visit,” Mrs. Small said. “We shouldn’t rule it out so swiftly. Perhaps this wasn’t the most ideal day, or we encountered the wrong people. If it still doesn’t feel like an ideal fit in a few months, we can go elsewhere. First impressions are wrong sometimes.”

**************

I’d hoped to have the paperback version ready to go within a week or two of the e-book release, but it turned out to be a slightly longer process than I expected. I also took a break of about two weeks to start work on the final draft of the book formerly known as The Very Next. The print version will definitely finally be ready before Halloween!

WeWriWa—The bad impression gets even worse

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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’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. When several congregants try to make conversation after services, their differences become increasingly magnified.

“Most of the people here are second-generation Americans, not immigrants,” the second woman’s husband said in broken Yiddish. “I think you picked the wrong synagogue. You won’t fit in very well.”

A third woman leaned in to Mrs. Small and addressed her in Yiddish. “Do you typically wear a tichel over your hair, or is this just for synagogue?”

Mrs. Small touched the red and yellow scarf she’d tied her hair up underneath. “I usually wear hats in public, and wear a scarf for synagogue and around my home.” Like Mr. Small, she also answered in German. Yiddish wasn’t a language most people in Germany had used, outside of very insular, religious pockets.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow.

“I advise you to wear normal hats only from now on. You’ll look like an old-country peasant if you keep wearing scarves. It’s very out of place in a modern American synagogue. Perhaps you’ll feel more at home in one of the Orthodox congregations.” She cast a glance at Mrs. Small and Sparky’s long sleeves, high collars, and low hemlines. “There’s no need to dress so modestly either. You’re in America now.”

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—Resisting assimilation

Copyright Jüdischen Museum Im Stadtmuseum, Berlin;
Yad Vashem Photo Archives 5409/3083

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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.

As last year, my Christmas- and Chanukah-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

It’s now the eighth night of Chanukah, which coincides with Christmas Eve, and the Smalls and Filliards are having a joint holiday meal. Cinnimin’s mother tries once again to talk the Smalls into adopting secular Christmas symbols, but they steadfastly refuse.

Mrs. Filliard helped herself to more pierogi. “Are you sure you don’t want to put up a Chanukah bush and a few secular decorations? The Christmas season ain’t over till January seventh, Russian Christmas. Even many people who ain’t Orthodox celebrate Twelfth Night on January sixth with special foods.”

“We’ll never celebrate Christmas,” Mrs. Small said. “It’s your holiday, not ours.”

“Chanukah is about resisting assimilation,” Gary agreed. “The Maccabees fought against the Seleucids’ attempts at introducing Greek customs, language, and religion into Judea. If our ancestors had given in and accepted foreign religion and culture, we’d be as much in the dustbin of history as the Seleucids are now. The holiday is about so much more than the oil lasting for eight nights instead of only one.”

WeWriWa—At the butcher shop

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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.

As last year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets will be coming from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

It’s two days before Thanksgiving, and Sparky (real name Katherine), her mother, her oldest brother Gary (born Friedrich), her best friend Cinnimin, and Cinnimin’s older brother M.J. are buying food for the Smalls’ half of the joint household’s feast. They’re now at their final stop, a kosher butcher.

Cinni held back after Gary opened the butcher’s door for her. Since she didn’t live on a farm and never helped in the kitchen if she could help it, she wasn’t used to seeing animal carcasses hanging up and strewn over tables. It was bad enough when she’d seen that fish head at the Smalls’ Rosh Hashanah supper.

“We usually go to a kosher butcher in Germantown, but this is much closer,” Gary said. “It’s not practical to haul all this stuff back on the streetcar, to our regular butcher, and back onto the streetcar again. I wish we’d settled in a place like New York or Newark, where all the Jewish resources we need are within a five-block radius of our home instead of a long ride and walk, there and back.”

Mrs. Small set her baskets down and approached a small pen of live turkeys. Cinni watched in amazement as she picked several up, felt for the meat on their bones, inspected their eyes and talons, and blew on their feathers. Mrs. Small might’ve never eaten a turkey or selected one for butchering, but she sure knew what to look for in her poultry.