Maccabees in Space: Celebrate Star Wars and Hanukkah in one fell swoop

If you’re one of the many breathlessly anticipating the opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this Friday, December 18 (I happen to be married to one of them), here’s a little tidbit to tide you over.

Continuing a grand tradition that stretches all the way back to Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs and “May the Schwartz be with you,” aish.com traces the sometimes elusive path between Jediism and Judaism, pausing along the way to ponder the similarity between two bands of rebels fighting an evil empire in a time and place far, far away (one of whom is, of course, the Maccabees, whose rebellion against the Seleucid Empire is celebrated every Hanukkah), the linguistic connection between Yoda and Yiddish, and the various parallels (some more tenuous than others) between the concept of the Force and other tenants of the Jedi universe, and the principles of Kabbalah. Enjoy!

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Death of the Author: Israeli writer Amir Gutfreund passes away at age 52

Haaretz and The Times of Israel both pay tribute to Israeli author Amir Gutfreund, who passed away in late November after a battle with cancer, at the age of 52. Gutfreund is best known for his book Our Holocaust, narrated with humor and sensitivity from the perspective of two children of Holocaust survivors. Our Holocaust was translated into English, French and German.

In 2003, Gutfreund was the recipient of the Sapir Prize, Israel’s equivalent of the Man Booker Prize, for his story collection The Shoreline Mansions. Gutfreund donated a significant portion of the 150,000 NIS prize to a nonprofit organization focused on aiding foreign workers in Israel, stating his legacy as a child of Holocaust survivors has granted him “sensitivity to people without rights, defenseless and hopeless.”

Gutfreund was also the screenwriter for the Israeli TV show “Hostages,” purchased by CBS and BBC4, which produced American and British versions of the show.

The Times of Israel also talks to Jessica Cohen, Gutfreund’s translator into English, about her initial reaction to Our Holocaust, which she first encountered while browsing in an Israeli bookstore: “I thought it was incredible. Even ten years ago there was a feeling of what could you possibly read about the Holocaust that hadn’t been written, but his was really, really different.”

Cohen also talks about the unique challenges of translating the book, which include a child’s narrative and multiple voices, and characterizes the writer as opinionated about and invested in the translation, describing a back-and-forth exchange which included hundreds of emails.

Cohen describes Gutfreund as a “genuine, caring man. No matter what he was going through, he wanted to know how we were.”

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I shot the Pharaoh – Passover the Bob Marley way

Here’s something to float in your Matzoh Ball soup – the new Bob Marley Haggadah, a clever effort from Nathan Phillips, of the SS+K ad agency, aided by designer Jessica Stewart (or, as she’s listed on the Bob Marley Passover website, “Jessica Stewart, Shiksa.”)

The Bob Marley Haggadah gives you all the info you need to conduct your Passover Seder, including all essential rituals and the Hebrew prayers transliterated into English, while also indulging in constant irreverent banter and some gratuitous Morrissey bashing, and ending with the full lyrics to R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”

As a wee sampler, here is what Bob Marley Passover has to say about the addition of an orange to the traditional Seder plate:

THE ORANGE, is a modern addition to the seder plate. When women were first becoming rabbis, a lady named Susannah Heschel was traveling in Florida, the Land of Oranges. One night she spoke at a synagogue about the emerging equality of women in Jewish life. After she spoke, a fat annoying man stood up and said in the nasal voice of a dick, “A woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate!”

Ever since that day, we place an orange on the seder plate, as a big f*ck you to haters everywhere. At Bob Marley Passover, we use a gay orange as a way to remember that absolutely everybody should have a place at the table.

 You can read and download the whole Haggadah here. Happy Pessach, everyone!

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Welcome a new literary equal-opportunity offender

The Canadian Jewish News has a good story about Shani Boianjiu, the new literary phenom whose recent novel, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid (Random House), tracks several young women throughout and in the aftermath of their service in the Israeli Defense Forces. Boianjiu, 25, has already been published in the New Yorker and received the U.S. National Book Foundation’s Top 5 Under 35 Award in 2011. Her book has garnered plenty of critical attention, mostly positive, and has apparently already managed to offend both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian readers – always a good sign, as the author herself acknowledges in the interview.

Boianjiu is now facing the interesting challenge of creating, in collaboration with a translator, a Hebrew translation for her book, originally written in English:

Some of the charm in the book is the way the English words are used, she said. “You have to find different ways to convey the same type of playfulness.” She said she’s a bit nervous for the Hebrew translation’s release, mostly because she is embarrassed to have her family and friends read it.

I’m also intrigued by the critiques leveled against her for the portrayal of men in her story, described as “almost incidental characters, just there for the women’s pleasure, and many of them die early and violently.” I can see how that might be offensive, since I can’t think of a single literary or artistic work where the women are the incidental providers of male pleasure, conveniently disposed of through early, gory deaths – can you?

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The New Online Dictionaries: More Options, Less Paper Cuts

Ha’aretz – bless its heart – maps the rise of online dictionaries at the expense of their long-suffering paper counterparts. The article focuses on Morfix, an online resource which I personally haven’t used much yet, but which apparently has some useful and nifty features, including stemming, which reduces inflected words to their roots, allowing users to enter any form of a verb or noun and receive a definition; vocalization, spelling corrections and related word suggestions; and links to relevant Wikipedia articles in Hebrew and English for proper nouns.

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Israeli Readers Join the Grey Wave

Reader Mechell first informed us of the impending Hebrew edition of mega-S&M-hit Fifty Shades of Grey a few weeks ago, and now, the inevitable is upon us: Virtual Jerusalem reports that the first Hebrew edition of the first volume in the Grey trilogy has sold out, fueled (if any fuel was necessary) by a major promotional blitz by publisher Yediot Books.

So, apparently, in case you had any doubts, Mommy Porn is just as appealing when read right-to-left as it is when read left-to-right.

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From “My Fair Lady” to “Blood Brothers,” via the Zimmerman Bypass

Our friends at Ha’aretz – without whom this blog would get updated even less than it does – bring us an interview with Daniel Efrat, who is responsible for Hebrew translations of several Broadway musicals, including “Next to Normal” and “Blood Brothers.”

Efrat discusses the unique challenges of translating a musical into Hebrew (not enough one-syllable words, for one thing), and lists the major mistakes that translators of musical theater tend to make – putting the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable, as well as the “Zimmerman” – trying to push too many syllables into a phrase.

The article also mentions a couple of past musical translating quandaries, primarily that notorious My Fair Lady line about “the rain in Spain,” which in Hebrew, as you might or might not remember, was transformed into hail, and was confined to the south of Spain only.

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Episodes Hebrew Gravestone Debacle

The Guardian’s Shortcuts blog reports a linguistic mishap concerning the British version of the TV show “Episodes” and featuring a Hebrew-inscribed gravestone. The Episode in question has Merc Lapidus, one of the main characters (I’m taking their word for it – I’ve never watched the thing), attending the funeral of his father. Apparently, though, the producers cut some corners during the research phase of script development, and the Hebrew portion of Lapidus Senior’s gravestone displays the sort of backwards, mirror-writing Hebrew which you’re familiar with if you’ve worked even an hour of Hebrew QA in your life. If that weren’t enough, if you actually try to read the backwards text, you’ll discover that “dearly missed” has been translated to “expensively soured” (or, as the Guardian endearingly phrases it, “pickled at great expense”).

The message here is quite clear, but let’s make it explicit anyway: producers, use some of that cushy budget of yours to hire a well-qualified Hebrew translator to consult on all of your linguistic needs, and pay them well. You’ll be glad you did (or, more likely, sorry if you don’t).

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Alice Walker Nixes Hebrew “Color Purple”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Alice Walker has refused to authorize a Hebrew translation of her Pulitzer-winning novel, “The Color Purple.” In a letter to Yediot Books, Walker said she would not authorize an Israeli edition of the novel because “Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.” You can read a summary of responses to Walker’s letter and some thoughts on the subject at The Literary Saloon.

Interestingly, a Hebrew edition of “The Color Purple” was already published in 1986 under the title הצבע ארגמן (which, if you want to get technical about it, actually means “The Color Scarlet”), by Leduri Press. Which might mean either that Walker was still cool with Israeli politics at the time, or that the goings-on at Leduri Press were not at the top of her priority list, what with having Steven Spielberg on line 2 and all.

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An interesting interview with Aminadav Dykman

Interesting interview with translator Aminadav Dykman on the English-language version of
Ha’aretz:

“For us, translation occupies a place that it does not occupy elsewhere, because we are still awfully ignorant… Any time you make a list of canonical books, you’ll either find that some things haven’t been translated into Hebrew, or you’ll find yourself saying, ‘What took so long?'”

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