(JTA) — If you read the “Harry Potter” series in Hebrew you may have noticed a curious Jewish fact: Though Sirius Black isn’t Jewish, the character sings a Hanukkah song in one scene.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Hebrew translator Gili Bar Hillel reveals some behind-the-scenes tidbits about her “Harry Potter” translation process. In the original English version, Black sings a Christmas song, but Bar Hillel felt that wouldn’t resonate with Israeli readers.
Instead, she used a well-known Hanukkah song, so that Jewish readers would be able to relate.
“There were fans who ridiculed this and said that I was trying to convert Harry to Judaism, but really the point was just to convey the cheer and festivity of making up words to a holiday song,” she said. “I don’t think any of the characters come off as obviously Christian, other than in a vague sort of cultural way, so I didn’t feel it was a huge deal if I substituted one seasonal holiday for another!”
That wasn’t Bar Hillel’s only translation dilemma. She struggled with finding the right phrase for “Pensieve,” a container used to store memories. After weeks of thinking, she came up with the term “Hagigit.”
The phrase is “a portmanteau of ‘hagig’ — a fleeting idea — and ‘gigit’ — a washtub,” Bar Hillel said.
It doesn’t seem like author J.K. Rowling would mind the liberties Bar Hillel took. The British author has recently become a vocal critic of anti-Semitism, using Twitter to call out people peddling anti-Jewish arguments. Her latest book even includes a villain whose obsessive hatred of Zionism turns into anti-Semitism.
Josefin Dolsten is a former news fellow at the Forward, writing about politics and culture, and editing the Sisterhood blog. She received an MA in Jewish Studies and Comparative Religion from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a BA in Government from Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at @josefindolsten.
Why A Hanukkah Song Made Is In Hebrew Harry Potter