L.L. Zamenhof and the Shadow People

L.L. Zamenhof and the Shadow People
The amazing story of how Esperanto came to be.
Esther Schor
The New Republic
December 30, 2009

By now many of you have probably seen this. I wouldn't call Zamenhof my household god, but otherwise I am very pleased to see this article, in which Esperanto takes second place to Zamenhof, meaning that the picture of Zamenhof--his underlying motivations, what he tried to accomplish in the various phases of his life--has finally migrated from the small world of Zamenhof Esperanto scholars that have emerged since the 1970s to the non-Esperantist public at large. Esther Schor has been engaging the general public on a number of fronts, and if she speaks on this theme at the national Kongreso in Washington DC in May 2010, then I won't have to, since she has already accomplished with Zamenhof what I only recently set out to do.

The "shadow people" were the Jews of Eastern Europe, and "Hilelismo" was a key phase in Zamenhof's overall trajectory, wherein the Jewish question and the quest for a universal language again merge. Schor focuses on this phase, but also covers the various twists and turns of Zamenhof's personal trajectory as well as of the Esperanto movement, showing the English-speaking public how complex was the terrain that Zamenhof sought to navigate and making sense out of his strategic maneuvers. She also illustrates the important point about how the twists and turns of history elude our various attempts to get a grip on it. This was as true for the various political and cultural positions taken by East European Jewry as it was for the Esperantists seeking the universal adoption of their language. A century ago who could have imagined the twisted course the 20th century would take?

It turns out that Esther Schor and I already crossed paths, though she wouldn't know it. I attended a talk on her book on Emma Lazarus a few years ago, which was pretty inspiring. Then I had no idea she was interested in Zamenhof or Esperanto.

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