Immigrant

June 22, 2020
Richard M. Berlin, MD

Page Number: 29

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 . . . the proudest man at my med school graduation.

-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

getting down on his 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 an office across from Newark’s

City Hall, he drilled crooked mayors’

molars 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 carried a wad

of bills he peeled off and stuffed

into people’s pockets. Master of the quick

extraction, his power-grip fingers crushed

my loosened milk teeth as he ripped them

from my bloodied 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 pulled teeth

he kept in a stack of drawers, the proudest man

at my med school graduation, this immigrant

who spent his life looking into America’s mouth,

the stains and decay, bridges and crowns, the jolt

of his booming voice commanding every citizen

to smile, bite down, grind, and open wide,

the way America’s jaws had opened for him.

Dr Berlin is Instructor in Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA. 

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