Tashlich 1938

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This post was originally scheduled for 7 September 2013, as part of the now-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It comes from an older version of the book formerly known as The Very First, which has since undergone even more edits.

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In loving memory of the one and only Keith John Moon, greatest drummer ever, who passed from this life, far too early, 35 years ago today.

In honour of Rosh Hashanah, which spanned 4-6 September this year, this week’s post comes from my chronological first Atlantic City book, The Very First. (I know it needs a much better title, but after over 20 years, I just can’t think of it by any other name!) Chapter 12, “High Holy Days,” covers the full cycle of the fall holidays in 1938.

New immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) is struggling to fit into her new town and American life. Her new best friend Cinnimin, whom her family lives with, thinks Sparky should make some compromises to be a real American girl. Each girl tries to convince the other, in a respectful way, of the merits of her side.

***

Monday after school, Cinni was skipping stones at the pond with Tina and Gayle when the Smalls appeared on the horizon, along with a bunch of other people Cinni didn’t recognize.  When she saw the man with the beard, she figured it must be their rabbi.  None of the other gentlemen had beards.  Perhaps he felt it were his duty to set an example and appear very religious on behalf of everyone else.  As it was, beards seemed so pre-modern, on a man of any religion.

“Would you like to skip stones with us?” Cinni asked. “It’s nice how your folks ain’t against having fun on a holiday.  I’ve heard some Christians in the olden days useta just sit and read the Bible on holidays and Sundays, and wouldn’t let their kids play or listen to music.”

“We’re not here to have fun,” Barry said, sneaking a look at Cinni. “We’re here for tashlich.”

“We’re going to throw crumbs into the water to symbolically cast off our sins,” Gary explained.

“Don’t you get rid of your sins by doing all that praying?  And I know you fast on Yom Kippur.  This seems like a silly superstition, like sacrificing children or spitting to ward off the evil eye.”

“It’s not meant to take the place of prayer and repentance,” Barry said. “It’s just a nice ritual done in addition to praying.  Some really religious folks spin a chicken or fish around their heads to transfer their sins to the animal.  We’re not nearly that goofy.”

“Barry and I are too young to fast on Yom Kippur,” Sparky said as the adults assembled a short distance from them. “We’re encouraged to not eat for part of the day, but we’re not supposed to fast the entire day before we’re obligated to keep all the commandments.  But Barry will be bar mitzvah in January.  He’ll have to do it next year.”

“Would you like to come to my bar mitzvah party?  I’ll give you a seat of honor at my table.”

“Sure, that sounds fun.  I ain’t a fan of most religion, but if there’s a party involved, it can’t be that boring.”

Cinni moved to another part of the pond with Gayle and Tina and continued skipping stones.  They watched the ceremony out of the corners of their eyes.

“I don’t understand what in the world they’re doing, or why, but I think it’s neat,” Gayle declared as she selected a round, flat gray stone and skipped it quite a distance across the water. “I wish Methodism had rituals like that.  I like religions with fun stuff.”

“Why do you even read about religion?” Tina asked. “It’s grownup stuff.  Grownup stuff is boring.  I only like reading stuff like comic books and magazine stories.”

“I like opening my mind to new worlds.  I don’t wanna look like some stupid American who only cares about her own culture and community.  When I grow up, I’d like a job where I can use my interest in these things.  Maybe I’ll be a fortuneteller or an astrologer.  Or maybe I can do what Mrs. Malspur does in her séance room, only make money for it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought about what I really wanna do when I’m a grownup.” Cinni pulled a candybar out of her skirt pocket, ripped off the wrapper, and took a huge bite. “For now, all I wanna do is fill my stomach and have fun.”

They watched the man they assumed to be the rabbi reading from a prayerbook as some of the group followed along in their own prayerbooks or from memory.  At the conclusion of the brief prayer service, someone passed around a bag of breadcrumbs mixed with fish food, and people took turns going to the water’s edge to cast the crumbs into it.  Cinni noticed that there weren’t many young people in the group.  Sparky probably felt lonely.

WeWriWa— “The more the merrier”

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, It’s now the second day of Rosh Hashanah 1945, and Csilla is very eager to perform tashlich, a ceremony symbolically casting off sins by throwing breadcrumbs or fish food into a body of water.

Most of her friends have no interest in it, but there are some takers. Their gracious host, Mrs. Goldmark, volunteers some of the fish food she recovered when she returned to her old house after the war. None of the fish in her family’s pond had survived, though she took the food in expectation of someday having another fishpond.

Before leaving, Csilla asks once more if anyone else wants to come. She’s not expecting Mrs. Goldmark’s oldest son Imre to take up the invitation.

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Imre put down Attila József’s Bear Dance poems. “May I tag along?”

“The more the merrier.” Mrs. Goldmark smiled at Csilla. “It’s never a bad thing to take along more than one man for protection.”

“What do I need a man for protection for when I’m gotten along pretty damn well without any men to protect me for so long?  Even if there’d been no war, I’m more tomboyish than Eszti.”

“Soviet soldiers won’t care how tomboyish you are,” Artur said. “All they care is that you’re a woman.  You can’t argue you’re tall and strong enough to fight off some big burly soldier, even if you are taller than most women.”

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Attila József (József Attila in the Hungarian name order) was one of Hungary’s greatest national poets. He wrote a lot of deeply passionate and romantic poetry, along with poems expressing a yearning for a loving maternal figure. Imre is crazy about him, and later quotes from his famous poem “Ode” in a love letter to Csilla.

WeWriWa—Introducing Imre

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. During November, I’ll be sharing from my WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, a saga about an ensemble cast of young Shoah survivors rejoining the world of the living and relearning how to be somewhat normal. Its settings include Budapest, Florence, Paris, Nantes, Montpellier, and Béziers.

It’s now the first day of Rosh Hashanah 1945, and on their way home from services at the Great Synagogue of Budapest, they bumped into Mrs. Goldmark, a woman whom Eszter and her fiancé Jákob met during a long weekend in Budapest in July. Mrs. Goldmark warmly invited them to her home for lunch, and assured them she has more than enough food for so many surprise guests due to her black market contacts.

She’s also very interested in setting up her oldest son with Csilla!

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Mrs. Goldmark put her hands on her oldest son’s shoulders and smiled, particularly in Csilla’s direction. “This is my beautiful firstborn Imre.  He’s eighteen, and hoping to go abroad to university.  My only girl is Júlia, who’s fifteen, and my baby is twelve-year-old Nándor.”

A variety of extra chairs were brought out, and then the food was brought to the table.  Mrs. Goldmark sat Imre directly across from Csilla, who’d already seated herself between Aranka and Klaudia.  Csilla, as serious and tomboyish as always, didn’t seem to realize the reason for this, and carried on talking with her friends.  She didn’t notice Imre smiling at her either, nor the smitten look in his big, dark puppy dog eyes.

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Before I finally took this story out of its long hiatus, Mrs. Goldmark was unnamed, and only intended as a one-off character. Then I got the idea to use her as an important secondary character, and to give her some kids as well. Not only that, but Imre completely convinced me to give him to Csilla, and told me about their entire long, difficult road to happily ever after. Csilla was originally intended for another man, but the storyline Imre gave me was so much more interesting than that as-yet unwritten, unplotted future storyline!

The name Imre also just popped into my head. I didn’t have to look through any list of names to decide on it.

Sweet Saturday Samples—Agnieszka and Ezra, Continued

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My A-Z post for the F day is here.

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples picks up where last week’s left off. It’s Rosh Hashanah 1994, and 18-year-old Agnieszka has been volunteering on a Haifa kibbutz with her best friend Lillian (a Western Hindu really into the hippie groove) since they graduated high school in June. Since before she arrived, Agnieszka has had a huge crush on the young director Ezra, four years her senior.

She was initially thrilled when Ezra made great friends with her, but now she’s started to believe this is too good to be true, and is planning to transfer to another kibbutz with Lillian as soon as possible. Ezra, however, has other ideas, and won’t dream of letting his mutual secret crush get away.

I’ve sprinkled in some of the pictures I’ve taken in Haifa and Rosh Hanikra for some local flavor.

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She was glad when she didn’t catch sight of him in the crowds that night. She sat with an old woman who’d immigrated from Hungary in 1956, Ibolya, who’d come from Ophelia’s birthplace, Gyor. During the refreshments after services, he also didn’t make an appearance within her line of vision. Satisfied she’d eluded him, she left Ibolya and went outside. She would grab Lillian and as soon as the holiday ended on the seventh, they would apply for transfer to another kibbutz.

“You’re not walking home alone at night, especially wearing something like that. It was bad enough you walked here alone. Why did you walk away earlier?”

“Go back to your family. They don’t want a stranger horning in on their time together.”

“You’re not a stranger to me.”

“You haven’t even known me three months, Ezra. You don’t have a special connection to anyone so quickly. Real friendships take longer than that to be established. I am going to take Lillian and transfer to another kibbutz where the director doesn’t pay unwarranted amounts of attention to me.”

“I won’t let you leave. God sent you to Beit Alizah for a reason.”

“I’m no different from thousands of other volunteers.”

“Volunteer or not, I’ve never felt such an instant and intense connection to anyone on so many levels—spiritual, emotional, intellectual, psychic, you name it. Like I’ve known you for years, or in another lifetime. And if you do transfer elsewhere to avoid me, I’ll follow you. Something like this doesn’t happen every day.”

“What about your family?”

“They’re staying in a hotel.”

“You spoke to them in Hebrew in front of me. I barely understood a word you said.”

“I’ll teach you. You have a dictionary and four instructional books. It can’t be harder than Armenian, Russian, or Hungarian. But for now I’m taking you on a sightseeing tour. And then we’re going back home.”

Agnieszka took his hand and walked with him to the Mediterranean Sea, next to Mount Carmel, with the ancient city of Acre to the northeast. Further east was the snowcapped peak of Mount Hermon.

“And directly north is the white cliff of Rosh Hanikra, the checkpoint of our border with Lebanon. We built this land up from nothing, but these mountains and the sea have always been here. And when you see something that beautiful, you can’t imagine anyone else having it. They can look, but you know they’ll never love or appreciate it as much as you do, or feel such emotional connection. Something so beautiful can’t be given to someone who can’t appreciate it. And they mean something beyond just beauty.”

“You must be extremely proud of the land.”

“I’m not talking about the land anymore, I’m talking about you.” Ezra slipped his arms around her waist and kissed her, and Agnieszka melted into the curves of his body and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

He was very gentle and at the same time passionate. Agnieszka felt extremely safe in his arms, beyond just the fact that he’d just finished his army stint two years ago. He was full of love, compassion, and deep familiarity that hearkened back from another lifetime.

“I’ve been wanting to do that since the first time I saw you lying asleep in your bed, but I restrained myself for fear you wouldn’t feel the same way. I guess this means you have feelings for me too.”

“Since I saw your picture in the brochure.”

“And you never told me?”

“I was afraid. But not anymore. You can take me back to your room and do whatever you want with me.”

“I respect you too much to sleep with you the first night. A quality relationship is built on more than that. If we’re still together at least a year from now and know this is leading to something permanent, and we both feel it’s time, then it can happen. And I may be mistaken, but aren’t you a betulah?”

“Is that your concern?”

“You are, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she admitted.

“You don’t have to be ashamed of it.”

“I want you to be the first.”

“If things work out like I believe they’re destined to, I will not only be your first lover, but your only.”

Agnieszka could barely sleep at all that night, thinking about Ezra and how strong his arms were, how soft his skin, his electric touch. She couldn’t wait to make love to him. She knew she could never go back to America.

 

Sweet Saturday Samples—Agnieszka and Ezra

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This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from Saga VI, Children’s Children, of my magnum opus Cinnimin (which will end up as one book in 12 volumes, all of it bar the opening and finale handwritten). It’s now September 1994, and Cinni’s granddaughter Agnieszka is volunteering on a Haifa kibbutz after high school.

Agnieszka has had a huge crush on the young kibbutz director, Ezra, since she saw his picture in the brochure, but now she’s starting to feel like she were dreaming if she ever thought she stood a chance with someone so handsome, who’s not a virgin, from a different culture, and four years older. Her cousin Toni and her friends Lillian, Raina, and Nate are trying to tell her they think Ezra likes her back and not to be so quick to rule out romance, but Agnieszka has made up her mind to leave with Lillian as soon as Rosh Hashanah is over. Her plans, however, are soon derailed when Ezra finds out about them.

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Lillian had just changed her hair color to peach and was looking through the yellow pages for tattoo parlors. Then Ezra came into the room looking for Agnieszka.

“Isn’t it just a little bit odd for a kibbutz director to pay so much attention to a volunteer?”

“With any luck, she won’t be a volunteer forever. Third time’s the charm. I want her to meet my parents. They came here for Rosh Hashanah, and my brother Alon.”

“Did you know Agnieszka goes to services at your synagogue? She told me and Toni she’s seen you there.”

“She goes there with some of my residents?”

“There and back, alone. You’re the only resident who gives us the time of day.”

“I can’t let that continue. She could be raped or killed walking alone at night. Nobody would dare harm her if they saw who her escort was.”

“Yes, she’s always talking about how well-built you are, like a Greek god. I’m sure everyone notices it, but it’s sure made an impression with her.”

“Does she say anything else about me?”

“She’s my second-best friend after my cousin Crystal. I can’t betray her confidences.”

Agnieszka came into the room wearing a low-cut blue silk dress. Ezra turned into one huge smile.

“You’re even more beautiful than usual. I’m going to insist you walk with me tonight. I don’t want some lowlife to rape or murder you. My parents and brother are here till the holiday ends on Wednesday night, but they’re staying in a hotel. I can walk you back to Beit Alizah tonight without them. I’d also love to show you some of the scenery at night.”

“How many directors are that nice to volunteers? Out of all the current volunteers, you’ve picked me.”

“I felt an instant connection to you. Like déjà vu. And you’re also beautiful.”

“I’ve never had a problem walking alone at night. And you’ve only known me for two and a half months.”

“I hope I get to know you for the rest of my life.” Ezra took her by the hand and led her into the main house, where his king-size room was located. “I want you to meet my family. That’s my fifteen-year-old brother Alon, and my parents Talia and Dov.”

“Is this your girlfriend?” Alon asked in Hebrew.

Confident that Agnieszka only spoke English, Russian, Armenian, German, and Hungarian, Ezra spoke back to them in his native tongue. “She’s a volunteer from America, in Atlantic City. She’s here with her friend Lillian for two years, and I fell in love with her the moment I saw her sleeping her first morning here. Tonight I’m going to tell her how I feel.”

“A volunteer?” his mother pestered. “There are no women in the city, or other residents?”

“That’s why it’s so strange. I can think of no other reason why I’d feel such a connection to a volunteer besides she was divinely sent here. I think she’s a keeper!”

“You’ll probably be rejected again. I’d be highly surprised if she cares for you enough to remain here and not go back to her life in America.”

Agnieszka walked out of the room into the evening. She didn’t care that Ezra walked after her trying to get her to come back. Nobody had ever heard of a director lavishing so much attention on a volunteer. It was too good to be true. She had nothing over a local girl. Perhaps he even had an ulterior motive, like Pete had for being nice to Octavia. The thought repulsed her.