Patriarch of the Israeli arm of the Hanzlicek family, Ephraim is a man who has seen much action during his life, starting out as a student of engineering in Prague, before becoming a battle-hardened resistance fighter during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II, and in the process losing his right foot. Even after the war ended, though, the fight for Ephraim wasn’t over, as although he was missing a foot, he continued to battle against the British, and later the Arabs, in order to secure the promised land for his family. Though highly prejudiced against gentiles, Ephraim is a wise and worldly man who maintains his Jewish faith strongly, and serves as a role model for Janie.
When it came to Ephraim Hanzlicek, his development was one that divided me in many ways, largely because of the fact that he was created to illustrate that while Ryan is welcomed into the Hanzlicek family as a friend, he is not universally trusted.
Early on in the development of Janie’s family, I wanted to establish the important moments of her teenage years by showing her Bat Mitzvah, and thus I felt that, rather than having just a simple ceremony held in an American synagogue, her family, and their devotion to the Jewish faith, would want to have it done in the Jewish holy land of Israel.
While Ryan’s involvement in the ceremony was a given, what I desired was there to be something of a conflict between his faith and that of the Hanzliceks, illustrating that while Janie’s relatives are willing to forgo many of the spiritual differences between the two children, there are some lines that cannot be crossed without causing trouble, and thus I chose to create Ephraim’s family as a strongly orthodox relative who would look on Ryan’s attachment to Janie with a touch more skepticism than Mátyás.
To develop Ephraim required a lot of soul-searching with regard to what he would say and why he would say such things. I’m not Jewish, myself, but can appreciate the strong feelings held by deeply religious and traditional people who are truly unbending to the concept of change, a point of view I can understand in a fast changing world – the morals of old society being swept away under a surge of modern and critical theories.
It was in this that I simply didn’t want to make Ephraim a ‘straw-man’ character, someone who is inflexible to the concept of change simply because ‘he doesn’t want it’, hence why he even allows Ryan to come and stay under his roof in the first place. Indeed while it serves the purpose of getting Ryan to go to Israel, it also provides him with a new slant on the Jewish faith which is still largely alien to him, as well as drawing emphasis to the fact that he cannot step too far into their family without treading on some toes.
In this regard, I had created for Ephraim an elaborate but realistic backstory, being the older brother of Mátyás who had studied an engineering degree in Prague, but had to give up everything in order to fight the Nazis with the Czech Resistance during World War II, helped to liberate the holy land from the British and later secure it from the Arabs during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. The physical manifestation of his sacrifice for the Jewish cause is illustrated in the loss of his foot, which was blown off by a German grenade during the war, a choice made early in Ephraim’s development in order to show the pains he was willing to suffer in order to defend his faith, but also the everlasting reminder of why he should be untrusting of gentiles.
Fundamentally, Ephraim his a loving father who cares deeply for his religion and his family, but holds strong opinions that would, these days, cause quite the stir. The Arab-Israeli conflict is indeed a contentious subject, and no matter what side of the wall people come down on it, the debate as to who’s right and who’s wrong is one mired in a deep and complex history spanning two-thousand years.
Ephraim’s willingness to defend his property with deadly force is based off someone I once knew who had grown up in Rhodesia during the colonial days, who often described how, in order to protect himself and his family from the locals, he would be fully prepared to shoot them dead before they did the same to him. Again, this is not only done to show the thin ice on which Ryan has found himself walking, but to bring home the fact that, in many parts of the world, death is a constant part of people’s lives – many people waking up in the morning wondering if they’ll still be alive by sunset.
To sum up, Ephraim is a conflicted character, but that’s what he was meant to be. Whether you see him as a friend or a hindrance to Ryan – a deeply traditional man or a religious bigot – is a matter of taste. The world isn’t full of single minded people, there are other opinions espoused that will likely conflict with your own, but how you react to them is your choice alone, and Ephraim is meant to represent that. He’s a pleasant, caring man who is devoted to his faith and family, but at the same time he’s one who is uncomfortable with the idea of bending the rules of his own moral and spiritual code.