Posted in Historical fiction, Writing

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.

Posted in New York City, Photography, Religion, Travel

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:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/27/realestate/a-sidestreet-surprise-a-monumental-church.html

http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/StFrancisXavier.html

http://www.sfxavier.org/

http://www.xavierhs.org/s/81/rd16/start.aspx

http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/larkin_john_8E.html

Posted in New York City, Photography, Religion, Travel

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:

http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/st-nicholas-park/history

http://stnicholasparknyc.org/

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:

http://www.saintmichaels.nyc/

http://sthughofcluny.org/2019/02/the-last-liturgy-at-st-michaels.html

http://66.39.99.22/history.php

http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/the_russians_are_here

http://www.nytimes.com/1964/03/15/archives/byzantine-mass-sung-at-st-patricks.html

Posted in Judaism, New York City, Photography, Religion, Travel

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.

Posted in New York City, Photography, Travel

The Bowery Mission

Copyright Beyond My Ken

The Bowery Mission, at 227 Bowery St., was founded 7 November 1879 by Rev. Albert Gleason Ruliffson and his wife Ellen, strong proponents of the Social Gospel movement. Theirs was the third rescue mission in the U.S., and the second in NYC.

The mission originally held services in a small room at 14 Bowery, and in 1880 moved to 36 Bowery In 1887, they moved to 105 Bowery. Sadly, this third location was destroyed by fire in 1898, and they moved to 55 Bowery (formerly Gombossy’s Music Hall). Eleven people perished in the fire.

Moving was necessitated a fourth time when it got in the way of approaches to the Manhattan Bridge. Instead of constructing the bridge elsewhere, the city demolished the mission and many other buildings (shades of the evil Robert Moses’s machinations in a later generation).

There have been no moves since the mission moved to 227 Bowery (which was once an undertaker’s business) in 1909. This final move was marked by a visit and speech from Pres. William Howard Taft.

Since 1980, they’ve also owned the building next door at 229 Bowery.

The mission added a summer camp in Nyack in 1894, using ample leftover money from a food drive. The children who arrived at Rev. Lawrence Jewett’s estate in horse-drawn carriages on 14 June were from families helped by said food drive, many new immigrants and very poor.

Initially, the estate was rented for $1 a month, but after Rev. Jewett’s passing a few years later, Christian Herald owner Dr. Louis Klopsch bought the property.

Dr. Klopsch also bought The Bowery Mission in 1895, to relieve severe financial distress which arose in the wake of its superintendent’s death.

Under the leadership of British-born John Greener Hallimond, the mission added services including a breadline, a women’s home in Brooklyn, and an employment agency.

This mission was created in The Bowery at that time in response to the very pressing need to help an increasing amount of impoverished people. Prior to the Upper East Side becoming the location of choice for blue-blood Manhattanites with lots of money, The Bowery was quite the fashionable, moneyed neighborhood.

All that changed by the Civil War, though. Gone were the stately mansions and upscale shops. In their place arose seedy beer gardens, burlesque theatres, brothels, dancehalls, flophouses, pawnshops, dive bars, saloons, and concert halls.

Even the remaining “normal” businesses, like clothing shops and diners, were cheap and run-down, for the poorest of the poor. There were also a plethora of violent gangs, pimps, and drunks roaming the streets. By the 1940s, The Bowery was the city’s Skid Row.

In contrast to many other churches, The Bowery Mission’s second-floor chapel’s stained glass window inscriptions are designed to be read by people outside, not inside, since people not already in church need reaching out to most.

From those early days, the mission has provided thousands of free breakfasts every day, yearly holiday meals, daily weekday worship services, five Sunday services, employment and education counselling, a place to sleep for the down and out, medical care, and help for people trying to quit drugs and alcohol. They also continue to operate summer camps.

For 140 years, countless people have turned their lives around thanks to these dedicated services. When many others considered them past redemption, The Bowery Mission treated them like beautiful human beings who just need some extra help.

The mission appears many times in my contemporary historical Bildungsroman Little Ragdoll, which is set from 1959–74. Protagonist Adicia Troy eats Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter meals at the mission every year with her four closest sisters and their exploited live-in nanny Sarah when they live in the Lower East Side.

Adicia’s parents and oldest brother Carlos are too proud to accept charity, and her upwardly mobile oldest sister Gemma always eats holiday meals with her bourgeois friends in the gentrified northern part of the neighborhood (which later rebranded itself the so-called East Village).

After the Troys’ tenement burns down in June 1962, Adicia goes to the mission at night with her little sister Justine and Gemma’s baby Giovanni, whom she left behind for adoption after escaping her unwanted, abusive marriage. They spend a wonderful night there and sleep in a real bed for the first time. Adicia’s one decent brother Allen also gets job counselling and a loan of $300.

More information:

http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2019/11/the-bowery-mission-in-new-yorks-once-gritty-neighborhood.html

http://www.boweryalliance.org/did-you-know-this-about-the-bowery/

http://www.bowery.org/

http://www.thevillager.com/2019/11/new-book-on-bowery-mission-explores-its-history-through-a-personal-lens/

http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/12/bowery-mission-no-227-bowery.html

Bowery Mission: Grit and Grace on Manhattan’s Oldest Street, Jason Storbakken, Plough Publishing House, Walden, NY, 2019.