To circumcise or not?

babies-smiling-150923For many men the birth of a son is a great thing, and for Ephraim perhaps especially so when William was born to Helena in 1874. He knew what it was to be the first born son of his parents, the longed for male. This joy in a son was bred in his bones and could not be denied. Equally undeniable was consideration of circumcision. He himself was circumcised, of course, by a mohel at the bris at eight days of age, as all Jewish boys were. Ephraim’s personal life, his profession and his Jewish-Christian faith constellated in a crisis.

 

In Chapter 25, Doctor and Family Man, at last Ephraim has contentment, crowned by the birth of a son. But this raises issues. As his great granddaughter I can only assume that Ephraim was circumcised. I have dared to imagine that he had a dilemma over this issue for his own son. This is backed by factual circumstantial evidence: his published letter-battle with a southern physician in the professional Medical and Surgical Reporter in 1874, exactly the year of son William’s birth. The exchange escalated to the point of Ephraim’s fiery outrage on the whole issue of Jewish ‘superiority’. In his own words: ‘The singular perseverance of the Jews in health is a mean fiction…’ 

His conflict shows: he both defends and attacks Judaism. In medical circles at the time circumcision was thought to be good for health. But Ephraim believed it had become a religious political issue; the choice he made could be seen as taking sides. About his boy? My imagination has Ephraim decide against. And gives Helena very little say.

In the morning…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

… Sadie’s smile flooded Ephraim with relief. His daughter would after all give her blessing to him marrying her best friend. She could forgive this new wound on top of the years of fatherlessness. And then she dropped her bombshell.

‘For myself, I shall be going to Charleston as soon as it can be arranged.’

‘Charleston? South Carolina? Why? Cincinnati is a fine place. And you two are like sisters.’

‘It is time that I cease to be a burden on you.’ She gave him a stern look, ‘Papa, please be understanding. I want to give you and Helena the peace of your engagement.’ He was unsure, and let her know he was displeased. But he had to let her go. After all she was a grown woman of twenty-four. What’s more, she had granted him his heart’s desire: his dear, dear Helena.

The challenging child of Ephraim’s first marriage moves to the sophisticated east coast city. How will she fare once out of her father’s influence? Beautiful and secretive, she returns to be bridesmaid to Helena at the wedding on 29 April 1873. Ephraim’s happiness is complete: ‘my bride is a secret garden, a walled garden, a private spring…’ Chapters 24 & 25. It won’t be long before Sadie has a half-brother.

Ephraim in love

‘My dear Helena, having come to know you through your friendship with my daughter, I have grown to see you in another light. Could you think ever to become my wife?’

valentine-heartShe opened her mouth to speak and then closed it. His heart sank. ‘I was afraid of that. I am an old man, old enough to be your father. Please, let us forget –‘

‘No!’ she cried out. ‘It’s the surprise. I need time. And Sadie…’

‘Time, yes. Of course I cannot court you like the young men, but,’ he dared to touch her, one gentle touch to the back of her hand, ‘I can be ardent.’ She studied his face. ‘You do not forbid me to hope?’ She shook her head.

It was ridiculous. For the first time in his life Ephraim was a romantic in love.

In Chapter 24, Ephraim in Love, Dr Epstein courts Helena Greyer, half his age and his daughter’s best friend. Will Helena’s father, Dr Greyer, give permission? As important, will Sadie accept Helena as her father’s wife?

‘Papa? Will you marry again?’

285px-overtureEphraim hesitated. He was aware that he was a focus of female speculation. Yes, the time was ripe. But though he had met some fine, educated women in Cincinnati, none had spoken to his heart. And he had wondered how his daughter would feel.

‘I was wondering — you don’t mind my saying?’ Sadie continued after a nod of his head encouraged her, ‘I was thinking you could make Miss Pettifer happy.’

‘Out of the question,’ Ephraim said abruptly. Good heavens, what a thought. The woman was nearly forty. He had felt his daughter flinch at the vehemence of his denial, so he pretended to consider. ‘I have never thought of her that way.’

It is 1870 and Ephraim himself is forty-one. In Chapter 23, Sadie, he is enjoying an established family, community and professional life. But daughter Sarah — who insists on calling herself Sadie, her new American name — reveals she has a will equal to his own. 

‘You are all grown up!’

1578Suddenly among the faces and figures of passengers descending from the train, Ephraim pushed through the crowd to embrace his daughter, thrilled at how she had grown into full and beautiful womanhood. His Sarah was small and gracefully built, her hair swept up in a mop of curls framing her forehead, long locks at the nape. A frivolous hat perched atop her coiffure to match her full-skirted maroon travelling costume.

‘Papa! You look just the same,’ she pulled back to take in his top hat, waistcoat, trim dark beard. ‘Not like a cowboy at all!’

 

 

At last Ephraim and his only child reunite. At last he can have a family life, a thriving medical practice, a home in a bustling, civilised city. As Chapter 22, Home Sweet Home, continues… will Sarah prove the doting docile daughter he imagines? Or will she take after her difficult, stubborn mother?

Home, Sweet Home

Illustrated_Cincinnati1875Kenny-51-e1449778349610Once again, Ephraim arrived in a new city to start a new life and this time it was an easy, comfortable beginning. Cincinnati, the lively, pleasant city along the banks of the Ohio River, greeted him with open arms, starting with a big bear hug from Uncle Jacob. ‘Look around, look around! They call this city the Queen of the West. What do you think?’

 

Out of the dubious, raw wild west of Kansas, lured by his will o’ the wisp Uncle, Ephraim finds sophisticated life in Cincinnati, a city already a hundred years old. In Home Sweet Home, Chapter 22, he opens a medical practice, attends clinics at the University hospital… all he lacks is his daughter. And perhaps a wife?

A terrible mistake

Cartel-de-Se-busca-de-los-Hermanos-Dalton-legendsofamerica_com_Finally, the awful truth was that along with the earnest and civic-minded the gateway to the West drew hustlers, con men, failures, cheats and criminals. Living near the center of Leavenworth Dr Epstein was called out to saloons where drink and cards routinely led to fights. A different class of patients began to turn up needing treatment for gun wounds, knife slashes, bloodied faces. They were the dregs of society, worse than any he had encountered in the navy, Turkish ghettoes or New York slums.

It’s Kansas 1868, in Chapter 21, America Regained, but not the Kansas Ephraim hoped for. How can he possibly let his 19-year-old Belarusian daughter join him here?

America Regained

Spirit of the West gast-pgEphraim unpacked his crates of medical texts, literature and books of faith, and commissioned a signboard. What finer place to be than Leavenworth, Kansas, the gateway to the West! As promised, there was certainly need for physicians here. He soon met the very best people of the city. Attorneys, bankers, manufacturers and merchants were among these civic-minded citizens, aspiring, sincere, self-made men. He shared their belief in American as the land of opportunity, and caught their enthusiasm for America’s duty to civilize this great continent — its manifest destiny.

Freed by his dear mother’s death to return to America and Christianity, Ephraim leaves behind Europe and his daughter for the second time. Full of optimism, in Chapter 21, America Regained, 1867-69, he sets up medical practice in a booming western town. But before long he encounters the darker side of the great American dream.