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Tempo por vi Brili! “Time for you to Shine!” (a still timely post) December 15, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“Estas la 5a tago kaj 6a nokto de ukanuko – kaj mi deziras al vi pacon en Esperanto.”

 

– “It’s the 5th day and 6th night of Chanukah – and I’m wishing you peace in Esperanto.”

During the 8 days and nights of Chanukah, I have the opportunity to tell the story of the miracle of light / oil from several different perspectives. Still, when I think about the story as it relates to a conflict of cultures, I very rarely spend a lot of time thinking about how different history would be if all of the Greek rulers had been as “tolerant” as Alexander the Great – or, for that matter, if all rulers and communities throughout history were even more tolerant.

Remember, when Alexander the Great ruled (336 – 323 BCE), Jews in his kingdom had a hard time, a difficult life; but they could still observe their faith and practice their rituals and traditions. The culture of the Jewish people was very different from the Greeks and, as I mention at various times throughout the year, if you are looking at someone’s culture from the outside, and don’t understand the foundation that’s underneath, rituals and traditions seem strange. For that matter, if you get far enough away from the meaning behind your own rituals and traditions, things can seem strange. So, the Greeks under Alexander the Great thought the Jewish people were strange – and made life hard for those they considered strange.

Life was easier for the Hellenic Jews, those who spoke and appeared more Greek and/or paid more attention to the outside rather than the inside (as focus on the exterior body was a prime consideration for the ancient Greeks). Those who eschewed all things Greek, and maintained their language and culture, would find themselves bullied and (if they had a business) they would find their business was not as lucrative as their Hellenic Jewish neighbor. People had to weigh the (social) cost of staying true to their beliefs and values versus the (spiritual) cost of betraying their faith.

“(1) Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost….

(3) Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) (2:1 & 2:3)

Living as a marginalized minority was/is no fun, but it could, and did, get worse – and the story of Chanukah is partially about keeping the faith and overcoming the “worse.” It is not, however, an isolated incident. In fact, throughout history, it seems as if the Jewish people are constantly subjected to the “worse” (and constantly having to overcome it). They are not the only population to hold this unfortunate distinction; however, they are notable in part because they could “pass” for members of the dominant society if they wanted to – or were compelled to do so.

Antiochus IV thought he could compel people to change by making it a crime to follow and observe the tenets of the Jewish faith. He basically said that if people didn’t give up their culture and faith – basically who they were as a people – they would face death.

Now, Antiochus’ stance seems wildly illogical and ignorant to me. He was the ruler of the dominant culture. Why would he care if people didn’t work for one day out of the week? Why would he care if people wore their hair in a different way from him or studied text he couldn’t read? Why would he care if people worshiped something/someone they couldn’t see instead of him and his idols?

Oh, yes, I see, Antiochus was on a power trip. I could say that his power trip was fueled by that first level of avidyā, ignorance about the true nature of things – including his own self. However, I don’t have to go that deep; because a big part of Antiochus’ ignorance came from not understanding the culture that was different from his own. And part of the reason he made life difficult for others is because he didn’t follow the Golden Rule.

“Tio, kio malamas vin, ne faru al via ulo. Tio estas la tuta Torao; la resto estas la klarigo. Nun iru studi.”

 

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation. Now go and study.”

– quoted from the story of Hillel the Elder “[teaching] the meaning of the whole Torah while standing on one foot,” in Esperanto and in English  

Born to day in 1859, in a part of the Russian Empire that is now Poland, Dr. L. L. Zamenhof was a Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist and polyglot. He was born into a Lithuanian-Jewish family that spoke Russian and Yiddish, but his father taught German and French – so he learned those languages, as well as Polish, at a young age. Eventually, he would also master German; have a good understanding of Latin, Hebrew, French, and Belarusian; and basic knowledge of Greek, English, Italian, Lithuanian, and Aramaic. At some point, he also studied Volapük, a constructed language created by Johann Martin Schleyer (a German Catholic priest).

The diverse population in his hometown and his love of language exposed Dr. Zamenhof to different cultures and also to the schisms (and wars) that developed between cultures. He imagined what the world would be like without conflict, especially conflict that arose from misunderstandings that he saw were the result of miscommunication. He thought that if people could more easily understand each other they would have a better chance at avoiding or resolving conflict. In 1873, while he was still a schoolboy, the future eye doctor started developing Esperanto, a constructed language that he called “Lingvo internacia” (“international language”).

Dr. Zamenhof continued his work even as he studied medicine and began working as a doctor. Eventually, he self-published his work (with a little help from his then future father-in-law) under the pseudonym “Doktoro Esperanto” or Doctor Hopeful. He continued to write and translate grammar books in various languages, including Esperanto, and also to look for solutions to oppression and nationalism. He explored various religions and social movements – he even wrote about humanitarianism or humanism (“homaranismo” in Esperanto), based on the teachings of Hillel the Elder. But, he kept coming back to the concept of language as a unifier.

Promoting the language and the idea behind the language would be Dr. Zamenhof’s legacy – a legacy that lived on through his wife (Klara) and their children. Even though the Zamenhof children, as adults, were killed during the Holocaust, along with millions of others, the language lived on. There are currently at least a thousand native speakers of Esperanto, worldwide, and millions who have some working knowledge of the language.

Ni ne estas tiel naivaj, kiel pensas pri ni kelkaj personoj; ni ne kredas, ke neŭtrala fundamento faros el la homoj anĝelojn; ni scias tre bone, ke la homoj malbonaj ankaŭ poste restos malbonaj; sed ni kredas, ke komunikiĝado kaj konatiĝado sur neŭtrala fundamento forigos almenaŭ la grandan amason de tiuj bestaĵoj kaj krimoj, kiuj estas kaŭzataj ne de malbona volo, sed simple de sinnekonado kaj de devigata sinaltrudado.”

“We are not as naive as some people think of us; we do not believe that a neutral foundation will make men angels; we know very well that bad people will stay bad even later; but we believe that communication and acquaintance based on a neutral basis will remove at least the great mass of those beasts and crimes which are caused not by ill will, but simply by [misunderstandings and forced coercion.]”

– quoted from a speech by Dr. L. L. Zamenhof to the Second World Congress of Esperanto, August 27, 1906

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

### pacon / peace ###

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