Thursday, May 14, 2015

Joseph Silbernik, the UEA's Man in New York

Joseph Slibernik
Eminent Esperantist
Oddly enough, the editorial that Joseph Silbernik refers to in his letter in the May 14, 1915 New York Sun does seem to appear in any of the preceding issues. There is no editorial titled “World Speech and Cacography” in the issues of May 13 or 12. was it in an earlier edition, replaced later? In any case, we’re left wondering just to what Joseph Silbernik was referring. Something about world speech. Oh, and “cacography,” which means (I looked it up) comic misspelling, typically to represent substandard or dialectal speech. It’s clear from what Silbernik wrote that the editorial did mention Esperanto, although this article is the only entry for “Esperanto” that can be found in the scanned copies of the Sun for the first two weeks of May 1915.

Fortunately, the identity of Joseph Silbernik is clear. He was not only the Delegate for New York of the Universal Esperanto Association (as noted at the bottom of his letter), but he was also involved in his local club and the Esperanto Association of North America.

In addition to all this, he wrote [letters][( to the newspapers in defense of Esperanto.


The Bible and Shakespeare Introduced Into World Speech.
To the Editor of The SunSir: While I thoroughly enjoyed your editorial article “World Speech and Cacography” in to-day’s Sun, I am afraid that those of your readers who are not well informed of the status which Esperanto is occupying in the world might be led to believe, from finding it too is one of those bizarre and grotesque contraptions so aptly represented by those two side-splitting specimens of “exkwizit skruupeulus kulchur.”

I will therefore ask you to be so kind as to permit me to give your readers a few specimens of Esperanto, when I am sure they will readily distinguish the true from the spurious, not to say the sublime from the ridiculous. I will even refrain from giving the translation, so sure am I that Esperanto can speak for itself : 
La lampo de la korpo estas la okulo, se do via okulo estas simpla via tuta korpo estos simpla.[1]

Kaj kial vi zorgas pri vestaĵo? Konsideru la lilion de la kampo, kiel ili kreskas; ili nek laboras nek spinas.
Sed mi diras al vi, ke ec Salmon en sia tuta gloro ni estis ornamita, kiel unu el tiuj ci.[2]

Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉielo, via nomo estas sanktigitia. Venu via regno, farigu via volo, kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.
Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.
Kaj formetu al ni niajn ŝuldojn, kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al niaj ŝuldantoj.
Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton, sed liberigu nin de la malbono.[3]

Ĉu esti aŭ ne esti,—tiel staras
Nun la demando: ĉu pli noble estas
Elporti ĉiujn batojn, ĉiujn sagojn
De la kolera sorto, aŭ sin armi
Kontraŭ la tuta maro da mizeroj
Kaj per la kontraŭstaro ilin fini?
Formorti—dormi, kaj nenio plu![4]

La ĉielo rakontas la gloron de Dio, kaj la farojn de Liaj manoj raportas la ĉiela firmaĵo.
Tago al tago transdonas diron, kaj nokto al nokto faras sciiĝojn.
Sen parolo kaj sen vorto, oni ne aŭdas ilian voĉon.
Tra la tuta mondo iras ilia ordono, kaj ĝis la fino de la universo iras iliaj vortoj; por la suno Li aranĝis tendon inter ili.
Kaj ĝi elirias kiel fianĉo el sia baldakeno, ĝojas kiel heroo, trakuranta sian vojon.[5]

I call attention to the letter “j,” which possesses the same sound in Esperanto as the “y” in English, “jes,” “yes”; “toj,” “toy.”
Joseph Silbernik
Delegate for New York of the Universal Esperanto Association.
New York, May 13.

This is probably the largest lump of Esperanto ever published in the Sun, heavily taken from the Bible. (I’ve broken things up, and added accents where the Sun’s compositors could not.) I should note that the first three extracts are all New Testament, and the last two are Shakespeare and the Psalms; it’s only these last two that were translated by Silbernik’s brother-in-law, Dr. Zamenhof. He must have topped off the Sun, since the subhead reveals that these are passages from the Bible and Shakespeare.

Silbernik arrived in the United States as fairly young man, in 1874. He was working as a compositor when he became a naturalized citizen (in 1882), but later worked as an interpreter at the courts. Those dates make it clear that he did not learn Esperanto before emigrating to the United States. However, he must have kept in touch with his family in Poland and so became one of the early Esperanto speakers in the United States.

He lived for a number of years at 229 E 18th Street, New York (the building seems to have been subsequently torn down), and died at the age of 75, not long after returning from Europe. It’s clear that he attended many Esperanto congresses, which were no doubt not only a chance to gather with other Esperanto speakers, but also a chance to reconnect with family members who lived in Europe.

In 1918, Amerika Esperantisto included him in a group portrait of seven eminentuloj, so we do know what he looks like. This should help pick him out in photos where he was not identified. The question still remains when he learned Esperanto.

  1. Matthew 6:22.  ↩
  2. Matthew 6:28–29.  ↩
  3. Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:9–13.  ↩
  4. Hamlet, Act III, scene 1.  ↩
  5. Psalm 19:1–5  ↩

You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook. If you like this post, share it with your friends. If you have a comment just for me, e-mail me at
This blog runs solely on ego! Follow this blog! Comment on this post! Let me know that you want to read more of it!

1 comment:

  1. In 2016, a Silbernik, possibly Joseph Silbernik's grandaughter , about 65-70 years old, recognizing my Esperanto t-shirt, approached me at the YMCA on 14th St and 6th Av. (McBurney Y). We briefly chatted.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...