We come for freedom and the chance to live the American dream.
I don’t know about you, but one of the unexpected best things to happen during the COVID-19 pandemic was the early release of the filmed version of Hamilton.
The line that gets the strongest audience reaction is shared between Hamilton and Lafayette—"Immigrants—we get the job done."
The hardest working immigrant in my family was my maternal grandfather Murray, whose family fled the pograms of Eastern Europe in the early 20th century and came to America for freedom and the chance to live the American Dream. And his success fueled dreams of success for me, which were an important part of my own inspiration to become doctor.
-for Maurice O. Emhoff, DDS, 1898-1992
When the Jews were slaves in Egypt,
Pharoah’s molars crumbled from a diet
seasoned with desert sand. Two thousand
years later, the Jews are enslaved again,
this time in Galicia, my grandfather fleeing
to America, his earliest memory being down
on his five-year-old knees to kiss Liberty
Island’s earth and thank God for the USA.
Flash forward and “Doc” Emhoff is the first
Jew to graduate Columbia Dental School.
With a Jersey City office next door to Mayor
Hague’s, he drilled molars for crooked pols
and pulled teeth from tough guys
who fixed my driver’s license road test.
A bear-hugging bulldozer of a man
decked out in pinstriped suits and a star
sapphire pinky ring, he’d peel off dollar bills
from a wad held by a sterling silver clip
and stuff them into my pocket. Master
of the quick extraction, his power-grip
fingers crushed my loosened milk teeth
into gravel when he ripped them, bloody
from my seven-year-old mouth.
Grandpa Murray, rags to riches, American
big shot, the man who dreamt even bigger
for his first grandson when he placed a doctor’s bag
in my crib, gave me stone skulls for bookends,
taught me to polish dentures in his cluttered lab,
and let me examine ten thousand extracted teeth
he kept in a stack of drawers. The proudest man
at my med school graduation, an immigrant
who spent his life staring into America’s mouth,
the stains and decay, bridges and crowns, the jolt
of his booming voice commanding every citizen
to bite down, grind, smile and open wide,
the way America’s jaws had opened for him.