That first December long ago

… in Cincinnati Ephraim and Sadie had told Helena how the Epstein family celebrated Chanukah. Though the Jewish festival of lights was based on history and the German tradition muddled up Christianity with pagan folklore, the two celebrations had in common the deepest faith of all —

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— the miracle of light in darkness. Now, along with readings from the Gospels of the story of the son of God born in a stable, the children heard about the candelabrum and the oil for one day which lasted for eight in the Temple. Jesus would have known this story too, Ephraim made sure they understood.

We jump ahead here to Chapter 35, Still Full of Sap, in Bethany, West Virginia 1885-87 in order to celebrate Christmas. Ephraim here is happily married and father of four young children. Next time, back to his chronology, continuing med school in New York City 1858. Meanwhile, happy celebrations to you.

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And then the blow fell.

A letter from home at last, but it was bordered with black, the only words: ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!’ At the bottom his parents names and the numbers 1829 – 1853: the dates of Ephraim’s birth and his revealed conversion to Christianity. They had declared him dead. haworth

The room spun and he gripped the sides of the wooden chair he sat in. Trembling, he gathered his scarf and hat and hurried down the staircase into the biting air of gray November. He walked fast, blindly. He sped on, driven by grief, by horror: what had he done? He had found his own God. And now his parents had severed him.

Having successfully begun at seminary in Chapter 11, At Andover, Ephraim breaks down in health and mind at his family’s reaction to his conversion. He learns new lessons in endurance, finding support in the household of his teacher, Professor Calvin Stowe, and Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Will Ephraim see his wife and daughter again? When I am a physician, he vows, then I will rescue them.

Ephraim’s farming skills,

though still raw, were welcomed with almost as much joy in Harrison as his erudition and possibly even his conversion. Side by side with Brother Solomon and others he worked the hundred acres. All the while,

every day, every evening, they studied, read, debated, interpreted. Linguistic disputation, phrase-by-phrase, sometimes word-by-word, discussion, the passionate rationality of Talmudic debate turned with all its strength to the New Testament. In the talk and learning, this inner exploration and pushing out of boundaries, this freedom to question everything, Ephraim experienced the pure oxygen of encouragement.

And so, in Chapter 10, Melioration, Ephraim spends three years among Hebrew Christians until he is rewarded with an offer of medical school — on one condition. ‘I wrote to Mama and Papa to tell them I am a Christian. I pray it doesn’t kill her.’

‘Do you dare?’

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

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‘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

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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.

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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…

 

 

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…