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