Orphaned by Cossacks, Carsie Akselrod and her sister flee Russia for New York City, seeking love and fulfillment amid the immigrant chaos of the nineteenth-century.
When her parents are murdered in a Cossack raid, Carsie grabs her younger sister, Lilia, and flees the Pale of Settlement, not stopping until the two of them arrive on New York’s Lower East Side.
Plunged into the immigrant chaos of the most crowded square mile on earth, the two girls take sweatshop jobs – Carsie as a milliner’s apprentice, Lilia at the Triangle Waist Company. It does not occur to Carsie that in her haste to live the life she wants she has never stopped to lament her parents’ deaths, and she smothers her grief and anger once more when the man she loves leaves her for a showgirl and a life in the Jewish mob.
But when Lilia is killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, Carsie is haunted – by her inability to mourn in any way and by all she has lost in her struggle to be American. Alone and on the edge of madness, she tries to fight back against everything that has wronged her.
Set against Tammany Hall politics and the rise of the American garment trade, Tabernacle is a tale of a woman torn by family, faith, and her drive for fulfillment.