2013-04-26

7th Asian Congress of Esperanto in Jerusalem

The 7th Asian Congress of Esperanto was held from last Thursday (2013-04-18) until this Monday (2013-04-22). About 160 people from 26 countries, including many from Europe, took part in this international event. Although I was one of its organizers, I initially planned to participate in it only for two days, but I ended up participating in it every day. It was much more than I had expected. Although the congress was called "Asian", participants from Europe seem to have contributed much more to its success than those from Asia.

Having spent five days in this temporary speech community of Esperantists, I have reconfirmed what I experienced and felt in two world congresses I took part in in 2009 in Bialystok and in 2011 in Copenhagen - problems of intercultural communication in Esperanto, on which I will give a talk in a systematic manner in the forthcoming world congress this July in Reykjavik, though I am rather afraid that I may speak publicly about a taboo many Esperantists might prefer not to speak about.

This time I have even found a more fundamental problem than problems of intercultural communication in Esperanto - some Esperantists, mostly from some specific cultures I will not mention in public, seem to have had no reason to invest their time and money to study Esperanto and maintain it in the first place simply because they do not seem to use it with speakers of other native languages except for greeting them and having a very shallow conversation at most; it is most likely that even in their mother tongue they have no intellectual dialog with anyone else.

Actually one can also call this a problem of intercultural communication. Every culture dictates its members what topics (not) to talk about, how to talk about them, etc. In this respect I have reconfirmed that more than 90% of the people, including Esperantists, behave according to the cultural stereotypes we have about them. Actually, it is thanks to them that each society functions normally. Of course, I would prefer those who defy these stereotypes. But I have also reconfirmed with people of which cultures I enjoy shmoozing even when they speak according to the cultural stereotypes about them - three groups in a random order: 1) Ashkenazi haredim, even if they are Israelis ;-); 2) Jewish American intellectuals; 3) Russian intellectuals, whether Jewish or not (and the common denominator between the three groups is that I can argue with them about every imaginable topic in a very unpredictable manner). Unfortunately, those from the first two groups are few and far between among Esperantists.

2013-04-12

Byproduct of the study of the Talmud

After one month of intersemestrial vacation we also returned this Wednesday to our regular study of the Talmud at our yeshiva like every other haredi yeshiva in the Jewish world. It is so uplifting to return there, especially after my four-week stay in Japan during this vacation. While in Japan, I felt as if I were living on my internal battery with no power recharger. But once I have returned to the yeshiva, I feel as if I were reconnected to the source of power. Now I feel that my internal battery is fully recharged.

But the influence of the study of the Talmud at the yeshiva seems to go far beyond this. Now I feel on my own flesh so keenly how it sharpens my mind. In this respect the study of the Talmud (at least in a traditional manner at a haredi yeshiva) can be called mental martial arts.

I have studied the Talmud at our amazing yeshiva only for five months so far, but I can already find logical flaws in other people's arguments, whether academic or personal, so easily. As I always liked to argue with others and was confrontational even before starting to study the Talmud at the yeshiva, I find it now more and more difficult with this byproduct of the study of the Talmud to resist the temptation of challenging someone else who makes logically flawed arguments. And it seems so easy to refute someone else who is not trained in the Talmud.

Of course, I do not challenge anyone else in order to refute him or her but only for the truth. But I have to learn to resist this temptation so as not to make unknown enemies of myself unnecessarily. Unfortunately, many people might take purely intellectual challenges as attacks ad hominem.

2013-04-05

Negative energy in Japan

This morning I returned to Jerusalem from a four-week trip in Japan. This was not the first time that I felt negative energy there, but this time I felt it so strongly, probably because I flew there immediately after the end of the first semester at the yeshiva, where I had such a powerful experience full of positive energy. The gap between the yeshiva and Japan was just too much to get used to in a single day. But on the other hand, I felt that the longer I stayed there, the more negative energy I became filled with.

I used to think and still think that this strong negative energy in Japan stems from sociocultural factors. Many people seem to be constantly afraid of something, thus seem depressed, and they depress others around themselves in turn. Even their seeming politeness seems to be nothing but a reflection of their constant fear of being disliked by others and other kinds of sociocultural fears. During these four weeks I saw few naturally smiling happy faces in Japan. I have also come to a conclusion that excessive consumerism there only serves as a kind of materialistic compensation for lack of inner happiness among many people living there.

The only place where I could feel positive energy among all the places I visited during this trip in Japan was the synagogue in Kobe (I am sure that I will be able to have a similar feeling in Chabad Center in Tokyo, which I have never visited). I spent the whole Passover there, so I had enough time to shmooze with two young Chabad rabbis sent from New York to Kobe to help the rabbi of the community. Shmoozing with them was not only intellectually inspiring but also spiritually uplifting. Actually, all the Chabad emissaries I met in Kobe deeply impressed me. The two most impressive things about them are their mastery of English, Hebrew and Yiddish and their joy of life. I have started to wonder what educational system Chabad has to produce such amazing people whom the present Japanese educational system will never ever be able to produce.

During the Passover in the synagogue in Kobe I had also a chance to shmooze with an Israeli acquaintance of mine whom I had met there a few times in my previous visits. He had a very interesting explanation about why Japan is so full of negative energy and so many people seem depressed (as well as why the synagogue is devoid of such negative energy). He explained this in physical terms. Although I could not verify his explanation scientifically, it made sense to me. But of course, I also think that sociocultural factors contribute to the negative energy rampant in Japan.

I know that writing about something negative emits negative energy, but I have decided to do this as a catalyst, hoping to recharge myself with positive energy in the second semester at the yeshiva, which will start in several days.