Bintel Blog

Zamenhof Days: December 15 and the Polish Jewish inventor of Esperanto

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

What are you doing on Zamenhof Day? To the uninitiated, that means December 15, the birthday of Ludwik Łazarz Zamenhof (born Eliezer Samenhof in 1859) a Polish Jewish ophthalmologist and inventor of Esperanto, the most popular constructed language ever. Although opinions differ widely on how many people actually speak it today Wikipedia quotes the Universal Esperanto Association approvingly when it says on its website that speakers number in the hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions.

Esperanto clubs flourish around the world, including in Tel Aviv, and Israeli TV discusses Esperanto on kids’ shows as well as news chat programs.

A rather more discreet presentation will take place in New York when The Universal Esperanto Association presents a symposium at The Church Center for the United Nations with featured speakers including Esther Schor, a Princeton University English professor, and author of “Emma Lazarus” (Schocken, 2006), a study of the acclaimed Jewish poet.

Also speaking will be writer Arika Okrent, a linguist (and devoted bagel baker) who compares Esperanto speakers to Trekkies who run around speaking the Klingon language as part of their everyday routine in “In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers and the Mad Dreamers who Tried to Build a Perfect Language” (Spiegel & Grau, 2009).

The link between Esperanto and “Star Trek” is strengthened by the famous cult 1965 sci-fi film “Incubus” starring the Canadian Jewish actor William Shatner, better known as Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. One of the very few full-length feature films made entirely in Esperanto its reemergence on YouTube and Netflix suggests that, despite its limited native audience, its niche earnestness has a broad, if ironic, appeal.

Despite the temptation to make light of the utopian aspirations of Zamenhof and his followers, they were born in a time of deadly serious antisemitic violence. Zamenhof, who also created a religious philosophy, Homaranismo based on teachings by Hillel, had three children, all of whom perished in the Holocaust. His youngest daughter Lidia, a fervent disciple of Esperanto as well as the Bahá’í Faith, to which she converted in the 1920s, was murdered at Treblinka.

Watch William Shatner in the Esperanto-language film “Incubus.”

For a typically irreverent review of “Incubus” on DVD watch Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bad Language
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Esther Schor, Esperanto, Arika Orent

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Neil Blonstein Mon. Dec 14, 2009

As the article states: there is a lot of comparisons between Esperanto and Klignon. They are out of place. Esperanto remains a form of a movement for friendship and peace. I am proud to have given 39 years of my free time to this effort. If Zamenhof was alive he would be asking why the world and powers that be have progressed morally so little, with risks of numerous international (to not mention national) wars. Friendship and peace must be worked on. Dr. L.L. Zamenhof knew this. Peace is not the lack of war it is much more and he wrote on it extensively and effectively. (Klingon is largely a selling point of Star Trek and a planned language intended to be complicated, while Esperanto is planned to be easy, for the masses). My English blog: www.EsperantoFriends.blogspot.com




Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.