Not Oy Canada. National anthem gets Yiddishized

Paul Dooley FLICKR

Just in time for Canada’s 150th birthday comes the first-ever version of the national anthem rendered in Yiddish.

No, it’s not called Oy Canada.

Rightfully taking its place alongside translations of O Canada into Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, German, Punjabi, among other languages, and several adaptations in aboriginal tongues (Dene, Ojibwa, Inuktitut), the Yiddish version is the brainchild of Hindy Nosek-Abelson, a Toronto writer, blogger, translator and all-around maven of mamaloshen.

The story is a little fermisht (confusing), so stay ongeshpitst (alert).

It all started when Craig Smith, a New York Times reporter who once headed the paper’s Shanghai bureau and now covers Canada, got in touch with Dan Bloom, an old work acquaintance and an American freelance journalist based in Taiwan.

When Smith asked whether Bloom knew of any non-English versions of Canada’s national anthem, “I jokingly told him I could sing it for him in Yiddish the next time I’m in Toronto,” Bloom wrote recently in the San Diego Jewish World. “He asked me if I was serious, and I had to confess I was just joking. But then the idea hit me: Why hasn’t someone done a Yiddish version of O Canada yet?”


Bloom’s sleuthing took him to author Margaret Atwood, whom he knew through their mutual work on climate change. Atwood suggested actress Deb Filler.

Filler told The CJN she’s working on a broadcast-quality version of Nosek-Abelson’s translation and hopes to be involved in the project going forward.

O Canada’s Yiddish version is the brainchild of Hindy Nosek-Abelson

According to Nosek-Abelson, Bloom contacted Atwood, who got in touch with artist Charles Pachter, who contacted Nosek-Abelson.

Nishkoshe (it doesn’t matter). Nosek-Abelson got to work and had surprisingly little trouble transforming the anthem.

She said inspiration for the project came from within.

“My parents and the generation that came from Europe after the war were just so grateful to be in Canada,” she said. “This was a goldene medina (promised land). To them, it was Gan Eden (Paradise). They felt free. As a result, so do I.

“I just think that it’s a wonderful thing to express the kind of patriotism they felt and that the Jewish community in general feels. So it came from the heart.”

Nosek-Abelson sang the completed work for her friend Marilyn Lightstone, and said she “loved it.” Lightstone, an actress, said she would pass it on to Moses Znaimer, head of ZoomerMedia.

That is how O Canada in Yiddish will come to be performed and recorded at ZoomerMedia’s Toronto studios on June 6 by a chorus of about 25 singers before a audience of 100 or so who will sing along. This is open to anyone. RSVP:[email protected]

Performers are slated to include multilingual singer Lenka Lichtenberg, actor David Gale and some students to impart a youthful tam (flavour).

As for the audience, “We want people who can carry a tune and have some knowledge of Yiddish,” Nosek-Abelson said.

“I didn’t want it to be a single voice. People perceive Yiddish as a dying language. I wanted it to be sung by a community. I know there’s a love for the language, even by people who don’t speak it on a daily basis. People love the language.”

It’s too early to say whether the Yiddish translation will be performed this Canada Day, but Nosek-Abelson said it will be broadcast on Vision TV and sung at this year’s Ideacity, the annual three-day conference presented by Znaimer that features talks from scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, scholars, and activists. This year, it takes place June 14-16.

Nosek-Abelson related that when people heard she was translating the anthem into Yiddish, they assumed it would be called Oy Canada.

“It’s not Oy Canada,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s not a kvetch. It’s praise.”

Nu? So here it is:

O Kaneda! Undzer heym un eygn land

Mir libn dir mit vunder un farshtand

Mit hertser fule zeyen mir

A land groys mit frayhayt

Fun noent, vayt O Kaneda

Mir shteyen bay dayn zayt

Got bentsh dos land mit prekhtike frayhayt

O Kaneda, mir shteyen bay dayn zayt

O Kaneda, mir shteyen bay dayn zayt


The original version of this article misspelled Deb Filler’s name. As well, The CJN was told the audience for the June 6 recording would be handpicked. In fact, it is open to anyone. RSVP to [email protected]