Better Than Esperanto

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Walking back from mincha at the White Shul, we passed blocks of stalled cars on Empire Boulevard, most of which were delivery vehicles for mashloach manos shepherded by harried drivers. There is just no easy way to navigate a frum neighborhood on Purim.

An occasional non-Jew got caught in the procession. They looked befuddled at finding that the traffic in a usually quiet neighborhood now resembled the exit lanes at a baseball stadium after the bottom of the ninth. One fellow rolled down his window, and yelled out, “What’s going on over here?” The tone of his voice made it clear that he was looking for an explanation, not an opportunity to vent his spleen.

My son, with whose family my wife and I were spending Purim, walked over to the curb to offer some background and context. I looked at the driver, sized him up, and quickly motioned to my son to let me handle this one.

I walked over to his van, and made eye contact with the African-American driver. “You know the Bible?” I asked.

“Sure,” he replied.

“Remember the Book of Esther?” I continued.

“Of course.”

“Well, today is the anniversary.”

Bingo. Instant comprehension. He drove on, satisfied.

At the end of the 19th century, Leyzer Zamenhof, a Jewish physician from Bialystok, believed that he could make an important contribution to intergroup peace by inventing a language that was culturally neutral and easy to learn.

Zamenhof never shied away from his Jewish ancestry, although he eschewed all forms of group exceptionalism. One of his three children embraced Baha’I; all of them perished in the Holocaust. He is buried in the large Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.

Esperanto is alive and well in 115 countries today, but signs of impending international peace are sorely lacking. Perhaps there is a different, older international language. It is not quite universal, and in the past was more often a cause of intergroup friction than healing. In those times, however, not too many people took the idea of intergroup harmony seriously. In parts of the world, like ours, things have changed somewhat. Perhaps we don’t give enough credit to the Bible as a better, wiser form of Esperanto.

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10 Responses

  1. One Christian's perspective says:

    I walked over to his van, and made eye contact with the African-American driver. “You know the Bible?” I asked.

    “Sure,” he replied.

    “Remember the Book of Esther?” I continued.

    “Of course.”

    “Well, today is the anniversary.”

    Bingo. Instant comprehension. He drove on, satisfied.

    Interfaith dialogue at its purest ! Thanks for sharing .

  2. Raphael Kaufman says:

    Raymond, I doubt that you would have liked to live back in those days among those folks who “not only knew our Torah, but talked about it in everyday conversation”. Religious tolerance was not one of their strong points. They might very well have burned you at the stake.

    P.S. I have a one word rebuttal for all you guys who think it would cool to live in freeadikeh yahren. “Novocaine”.

  3. Ken Applebaum says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, I was surprised to see that your recollection of your Purim this year in the Five Towns/Far Rockaway area didn’t include your hearing of a wonderful chidush regarding Amalek, Haman, and Bavel after Shacharis. :)

    [YA – Had the guy who told it to me been African-American (and not an attorney), I might have shared it :-) ]

  4. lawrence kaplan says:

    There’s a well known joke about an international Esperanto conference where people are lecturing in Esperanto on all sorts of subjects, showing its wide variety of use. During the break one speaker turns the person sitting at his side and says “Nu. Vos makht a Yid?” But then Jews were and are always leaders in universal causes.

  5. DickK says:

    At the risk of heading off orthogonally, could learning the Talmud be a way to bring us together in the world? An article spreading virally across the Jewish internet says that all South Koreans “learn talmud”! Purim Torah? true? My limited Googling did not yield satisfactory results either way. Does anybody out there know anything about this?

    [YA – I have worked closely with a South Korean friend of Israel and the Jews for about 15 years. He has written many books about Orthodox Judaism for the Korean Christian community. I’ve travelled there myself to lecture. To the best of my knowledge, there is no truth to the claim that the average Korean has a copy of the Talmud, studies the Talmud, or has ever heard of the Talmud.]

  6. mycroft says:

    “It is my understanding that back in the 17th century, right here in America’s thirteen original colonies, that the average person not only knew our Torah, but people would talk about it in everyday conversation much as today, people talk about sports, politics”

    That they many knew the Bible is obvious-but that did not necessarily lead to toleration of living Jews

  7. aron feldman says:

    There is a fine line between a lack of Jewish exceptionalism and outright self hate.Soros just needs an excuse

  8. Raymond says:

    At the risk of sounding like I am a man from centuries past rather than living in the moment, I think that lying at the root of so much of our cultural deterioration, has been the Radical Left’s successful removal of the Bible from popular discourse. It is my understanding that back in the 17th century, right here in America’s thirteen original colonies, that the average person not only knew our Torah, but people would talk about it in everyday conversation much as today, people talk about sports, politics, Oprah, Charlie Sheen, or G-d knows what. But such talk has become the very opposite of what is considered to be acceptable, everyday conversation, and that is to our peril. The only possible remedy for this that I can think of, is to have a sense as to which people are the most open to becoming Biblically literate, and then doing what one can to educate such individuals, one person at a time.

  9. Ori says:

    I love this, thank you. Today I went to my kids’ public school to teach their class friends about Purim. They’re 2nd graders and kindergarteners, so they didn’t know much about the book of Ester. But they could relate to the difference between a president, whose powers are limited by law, and a king, whose powers are not.

  10. L. Oberstein says:

    I saw his kever when I toured Poland about 20 years ago. George Soros’s father was a believer in Esperanto. His funeral service was conducted by the Esperanto League or whatever they called themselves. They were all Jews who shied away from exceptionalism. That may partially explain why Soros is the way he is about Jewish causes.