L. L. Zamenhof and the shadow people
One hundred fifty years after the birth of L. L. Zamenhof in 1859, the audacity of his ambition stands out in sharp relief. Zamenhof intended Esperanto to create a new people for whom ethical relations to all other human beings, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, or religion, would be primary. Convinced that Esperanto, to survive, needed to become the hereditary language of a people, he offered it to the Jews of Russia as the medium of a transformed Jewish identity called Hillelism. When the Russian Jews spurned his gift, he offered Hillelism, in multiple versions, to the Esperantists. But the French leaders of the movement found Hillelism unseemly, in part because they deemed it “mystical,” and in part because it had Jewish overtones. During Zamenhof’s lifetime, the Esperanto “people” were hardly the harmonious generation Zamenhof had envisioned; in fact, they would later endure numerous schisms. Nonetheless, they remained Zamenhof’s best hope to people the utopia of the future.
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