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—A bad first impression continues

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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.

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

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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.

WeWriWa—Entering the temple

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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 now sharing excerpts from a middle grade historical fantasy short story called “The Search for Shoki,” which I wrote for a contest last year. It’s set in 737 Japan, during the last year of a smallpox epidemic which started in 735 and killed one-third of the population.

Umiko Hamasaki and Mizuki, daughter of her household’s senior lady-in-waiting, are on a mission to find friendly yokai who’ll lead them to Shoki, a great slayer of disease demons. After a few days in the forest, under the protection of Baku, they’ve emerged into a lush grassland. When rain began coming down, they hightailed it towards the nearest building.

Nio of the Jodo-ji temple in Matsuyama, Copyright Dokudami

Ayumu came to a stop in front of a temple matching the one on Shinobu’s map. Rain came down more and more heavily as Umiko dismounted Ayumu and made her way to the gates. On either side were Nio, muscular images of Buddha. The statue on the right had an open mouth, and the one on the left had a closed mouth.

“Should we take Ayumu inside?” Mizuki asked. “Animals have the potential to reach Nirvana just as humans do, and could’ve been loved ones in former lifetimes.”

“It’ll be worse to leave her outside,” Umiko said. “We’ll only stay here until the rain stops.”

Rain began pounding heavily upon the roof as soon as they were in the main hall. Some of the rain gushed in through cracks in the stone walls.

The ten lines end here. One more is below.

No other sounds could be heard, and Umiko didn’t sense the presence of anyone else, animal or human.