What do fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito, Brazilian soccer star Pelé and financier George Soros have in common? They all share an interest in Esperanto, an invented language whose goal is to unite humankind.
“Nekredebla,” you might be thinking (that’s Esperanto for “incredible”). But not so quick — other well known figures have also supported the language, including Leo Tolstoy, the grand old man of European letters.
On December 15 some 70 Esperanto enthusiasts descended on a building near the United Nations for the Universal Esperanto Association’s Zamenhof Symposium 2010. The meeting drew people from a wide range of ages, religions and backgrounds. Human rights lawyer Ugoji Eze, born of a Jewish mother and Nigerian father and a member of Young Israel of West Hempstead, was not an atypical participant.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Jonathan D. Sarna writes about “Great Jews Since Bible Times” by Elma Ehrlich Levinger.
My first Jewish history book recounted the entire story of “great Jews since bible times” in 160 pages.
One of many children’s books written by the writer and educator Elma Ehrlich Levinger, “Great Jews Since Bible Times,” published in 1926, introduced me to a wide range of fascinating characters, 35 in all, from Akiba to Zangwill, and from the Talmud to the 20th century — complete with illustrations. Individual chapters recounted the story of “Hillel, the poor student,” who, when he had no money to pay the door-keeper of his Jewish school, eavesdropped on lessons from the roof, and almost froze to death in a snowstorm; Abraham Ibn Ezra, “The Happy Traveler,” who traversed the world of his day, composing poetry; the philosophers Philo and Spinoza; even the false messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.
The Fox camera kept returning to Jon Daniels, the Texas Rangers’ Jewish General Manager, during Game Two of the World Series last Thursday. Texas’s bullpen was collapsing in spectacular fashion for the second time this postseason, and Daniels was struggling to stay expressionless. Struggling, but you could see him suffering the frustration that comes from having your worldview confirmed.
Like many GMs, Daniels is known for using sabermetrics, a data-driven approach to baseball. Sabermetricians believe that reserving the team’s best reliever for the ninth inning is ludicrous. Yes, the game technically ends in the ninth, but more often the crucial moment comes with runners on and few outs in the seventh, or eighth; the team should use its best reliever then to shut the opposing team down instead of waiting until the game is essentially decided. These two Rangers’ postseason games could easily be exhibits A and B in the case against the closer.
Jews have always been interested in baseball, playing it and aestheticizing it through literature. But what’s different about the work of GMs like Daniels, Theo Epstein of the Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians President Mark Shapiro is that their approach to the sport is driven by a vibrant intellectualism that emphasizes debate and developing new methodologies.
The story goes that a certain heathen approached the Jewish sage Shammai and asked to be converted, on the condition that he is taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Indignant at receiving such a ludicrous request, Shammai chased the man away. Undeterred, the heathen then approached the sage Hillel with the same request. Hillel replied with what Jews regard as the golden rule: “That which is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. This is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now, go and study.”
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s new book, “Hillel: If Not Now, When?” is a brisk, readable introduction to the life and teachings of Hillel the Elder, one of Judaism’s most revered sages. Not much is known about the historical Hillel, who lived from around 110 B.C.E. to 10 C.E. The outlines of his life are recounted in rabbinic sources, though many of the details belong to the realm of hagiography. (He is arguably best known today for his invention of the Passover “sandwich” that bears his name.)
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