‘Do you dare?’

‘You don’t — you’re afraid!’ Benjamin crowed.

P1040772

‘You think my faith cannot hold its own? My intellect?’ Anger made Ephraim’s voice harsh, and then ironic. ‘I dare say I can emerge from a Christian service unscathed.’ The way was wider here and they easily walked abreast, thumping their improvised walking sticks, walking fast in the competitiveness of friends. He told Benjamin another road story from the Shermans’ Bible. And so they made a bet. On the next day, which was Sunday, if they found themselves in sight of a church, they would attend it.

Curiosity, challenge… the two Jewish friends on a summer break in New Jersey, 1851, egg each other on. In Chapter 9, The Road to Metuchen, they have an encounter that will change their lives forever.

They had started with Proverbs,

and set on a course of reading the Old Testament aloud to improve Ephraim’s English. Judge Sherman was avidly curious about his employee’s Hebrew insights. They read for half an hour most evenings, except when calving and lambing interrupted. Ephraim was fascinated

DSCN1156

by the translation of his familiar holy writ into English. It seemed fresh, new, as if just written. Yet familiar and safe, the same Lord God he knew, the same forefathers, the same Israelites. Tonight’s reading was about the burning bush, a favorite of Ephraim’s from childhood: how could a bush burn with fire and yet not burn? ‘I should like to hear that in the Hebrew,’ said the judge. More and more frequently, he asked for the language he believed the first Christians prayed in.

Ephraim is still a farmhand, but with a kindly, intelligent employer. When an invitation to demonstrate his Hebrew at the local church ensues, Ephraim declines, although curious. By the end of Chapter 8 (I Will Put Ephraim to the Yoke) he is longing to be among Jews.

She shifted her bodyweight,

… he heard her breathing, she gave a low moan. He pressed his head against her flank and stripped his fingers down the length of the first teat to hear the stream of milk hit the bottom of the oak bucket. His hands were strong now, and hardened with calluses. If Papa, Mama, Zayde could see me… he thought of the yellow house of his childhood, felt again a fool to remember how he took milking for granted, believing any peasant or dairymaid could do it.

20150731_102921So, Ephraim got work at last, as a poorly paid, inexperienced farmhand. He crossed over the river to The Country Beyond (Chapter 7) and a labour bureau in Hackensack, New Jersey. After a season Squire Ackerman ends the job. Ephraim has to hope for farm work with blind Judge Sherman…

AmaReka… sounding like America,

… in Hebrew it meant hollow people — the so-called good life, all hard work and no respect for the old ways. Hollow indeed — if I get hard work I will thank the Lord, Ephraim vowed. He started a second letter to follow the one that announced his safe arrival after the nightmare voyage. They must believe! He set out telling some of the astonishment that was America. But after three lines he faltered, more depressed than ever. He tore off the strip of paper and crumpled it, carefully saving the rest of the sheet.

Times Square, NYC

AmaReka, America

It’s still New York City, 1850, in Chapter 6, Amereka, and Ephraim is down to his last few dollars as he struggles to find work. Should he give up and buy a ticket home?

How to start in this amazing,

…thriving, bustling city? With a tour by Uncle Jacob, of course… he halted at the corner of Canal and Broadway which was indeed broad — but unpaved, just like a rutted country road. DSCN2097The Yiddish, German and Russian of their neighbourhood had given way to raw Yankee English, and to horse traffic shouts and rumbles, the hawking and spitting of men, the barking of dogs. Ephraim translated the signs on the buildings: College of Health, Watches and Clocks… his spirits rose with the energy of it all: work, America, freedom!

But of course there was no Statue of Liberty to greet Ephraim when he arrived in New York New York (Chapter 5) in 1850. This was a raw, growing city, where Fifth Avenue stretched up only as far as 23rd Street. Surely he would easily find work… or would he?

Image

Looking up to the broad, taut sails…

… awe filled Ephraim at the power of wind, the power of the Lord. The heaviest storm season in these northern waters had begun, and the swells and heaving of their ship on the vastness of the ocean increased. When the gusts hit, down they went to their hell hole still reeking of urine, feces, vomit, rot. Ephraim focused on hope: how long, how long to America, the promised land of opportunity?sails

The worst of all storms follows in The Perilous Journey by Sea (Chapter 4) in the leaky ship Howard on a voyage of nine weeks that should have taken three. ‘Repent your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ!’ threatens a shipboard pastor…

 

 

Quote

Praise for…

Susan Lee Kerr’s debut historical novel is more than just a portrait of her extraordinary great grandfather — it’s a story about Europe and America, Christians and Jews, science and superstition, and the impact of immigration, dislocation and modernity on three generations of a gifted but turbulent family. Ephraim Epstein’s journey is geographic, spiritual and psychological, and it takes him — and us — from the 19th century to the 20th in this compelling, surprising and carefully researched narrative.

— Glenn Frankel, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of

The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend

A ticket to Ephraim’s world

Fasten your seatbelts… oh, but there were no seatbelts in 1850. So, hi there from Ephraim’s author and great granddaughter (one of many, but the only one I know of who’s tracked his life and turned it into a novel). This is the first post for Ephraim’s site… you’ll see I’ve begun pages where we can travel where he did:  from Belarus to Kansas, from Saloniki (as he called it) to West Virginia and more, much more.

And another part where followers of Ephraim can see photos of him, his family and maybe meet up with Ephraim’s seed right here in the 21st century. And of course there’s the story page, a sketch of what he’s all about.

Pardon me while this blogsite is building, more bells and whistles will appear. I’m braving new territory as this astonishing illustrious ancestor did regularly. Speaking of travels and adventures, which I was only slant-wise, I won’t be back for a month — going on my own travels. But do watch this space as the historical novel about Ephraim M Epstein is in production countdown… 104 days till it is ready for the world. And here in this place we can have some fun exploring his world. Just think, he spoke seven languages…