Zamenhof interview: Esperanto & Jewish Ideals

Now on my web site:

Esperanto and Jewish Ideals,” Interview for the Jewish Chronicle with Dr. Zamenhof, The Jewish Chronicle, September 6, 1907, pp. 16-18. Note also the advertisement for "kakao" (cocoa).

With Zamenhof’s translation of ‘La Gaja Migranto’ (published in Fundamenta Krestomatio de la Lingvo Esperanto, 1903), mentioned in the interview.

This interview was translated into Esperanto and published in two parts. Note that R. I. [ = Isidore?] Harris is given as the interviewer:
Intervjuo kun d-ro Zamenhof de R. I. HARRIS, elangligis N. Z. MAIMON, La nica literatura revuo 6/3 (n-ro 33), Januaro-Februaro 1961, p. 82-89.
Intervjuo kun d-ro Zamenhof (fino) de R. I. HARRIS, elangligis N. Z. MAIMON, La nica literatura revuo 6/4 (n-ro 34), Marto-Aprilo 1961, p. 121-127.
Here I noticed interesting details about Zamenhof's thoughts on the Jewish question that I don't recall from other statements. For example, when he describes his attempt to create a new Judaism for the 20th century, he makes two curious assertions: (1) he almost blames his fellow Jews for isolating themselves within the nations in which they find themselves, but (2) he rejects Reform Judaism for excessive accommodation to the gentiles, who don't accept Jews anyway, Zamenhof thus abjures assimilationism as lacking self-respect. His project of Hilelismo (Hillelism, which later morphed into Homaranismo, no longer Jewish-specific and somewhat akin to Ethical Culture) was meant to reject an obsolete territorial (and superstitious) traditional conception of Judaism and modernize it to reflect the ethical ideal (of which monotheism is a part) incorporated in it.

Zamenhof's conception of the causes and cure of ethnic conflict betray an incredible lack of political sophistication. This can be seen most clearly in his paper “International Language” presented to the First Universal Races Congress in 1911. Denying economic causes for national conflict, Zamenhof curiously argues:
Can we say, for instance, that so many millions of poor Russians hate the millions of poor Chinese on economic grounds, when they shed their blood so willingly to defend their Russian oppressors against the attacks of foreigners? Assuredly not, for the Russian soldier knows very well, when he kills a Chinese soldier, that the man would never do him as much harm as the "mailed fist" of his own compatriots. It is not economic causes that give rise to national hatreds.
There is a glimpse of political consciousness in the reference to a group's own oppressors, which immediately disappears. His entire argument is abstract. While correctly denying intrinsic, ineluctable differences between peoples at the basis of animosity, Zamenhof exhibits not an ounce of political or historical consciousness in understanding how these problems came to be or what drives them. What he does show in his various statements is his intimate familiarity with Eastern Europe and the dilemma of Jews in this hostile environment.

This interview in English is invaluable, as the most extensive documentation of Zamenhof's engagement with the Jewish question, outside of his writings in Russian, is in Esperanto. But again, his political cluelessness comes to the forefront.

Zamenhof, soberly and with absolutely no self-aggrandizement, proposed the most far-reaching ambitious projects, all of which failed except for Esperanto, which succeeded in creating an international community of speakers that has survived 130 years, including the century following Zamenhof's death. Zamenhof projected into the future on a grand scale, from the vantage point of a provincial Eastern European Jew chafing at the ghettoization and discrimination that he suffered.

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