The Jewish Nomad: Elana Dunkelman explains the journey of recording a fictional audiobook set during the Holocaust

Elana Dunkelman

Elana Dunkelman is a Toronto-based actor who narrates the audiobook for the young-adult novel Names in a Jar by Jennifer Gold—an author who also happens to live in Toronto.

This week, I got the lowdown from Elana about how this came together, and why it’s worth your attention.

It tells the story of two fictional sisters, Anna and Lina, who take turns describing their experiences during the shoah. 

The sisters are sent to the Warsaw Ghetto along with their father. Anna is taken in by a Christian family, while Lina ends up in Treblinka. 

Most interestingly, the family who rescues Anna is based on real-life Polish nurse, Irena Sendler, who saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. After sending them to hide in orphanages, convents or with Polish families, Irena would write the children’s real names on lists which she would hide in jars buried in her garden. 

While she’s done voiceovers for animation, video games and commercials, this was Elana’s first audiobook. 

And she even got to bust out the Yiddish chops she learned at Bialik High School in Montreal. (Her mother joked that all those years of tuition were finally paying off!)

Names in a Jar was written in English, but it includes names and phrases in Yiddish, Polish and Hebrew—not to mention a Yiddish song—all of which all needed correct pronunciations.

As the grandchild of survivors, Elana was proud to be able to tell a story that feels “close to her heart.” After all, as a Canadian actor, you don’t always get to pick and choose your project—something I can totally relate to.

“In my own experience, they never wanted to talk about it, so I think there’s a lot of missing information that we just won’t be able to get because they’re no longer with us,” Elana says of her survivor grandparents, particularly her own grandmother. “Our generation talks about things a lot more. We try to work through our trauma. I don’t think she shared everything.”

But she also feels a sense of closure in telling this story—as a way to connect with her grandparents, and what they lived through.

Names in the Jar by Jennifer Gold is available for instant listening via Audible.

Keeping klezmer kosher for Canada Day

On my podcast Bonjour Chai, we recently spoke with the heads of KlezKanada and Ashkenaz Fest, two of Canada’s leading Jewish music festivals.

Coming up this week, acclaimed klezmer musician—and former artistic director of KlezKanada—Michael Winograd will be performing in two different festivals that might be near you.

I hear he’s quite the clarinet player. His band is punnily called Michael Winograd and the Honorable Menschn, and they’re celebrating the release of their latest album, Early Bird Special, which follows their debut album Kosher Style.

If you’re in or near Ottawa, catch him at the city’s jazz festival on June 30. And then, Ashkenaz Fest is co-sponsoring his free Canada Day performance at Toronto’s jazz festival. It’s time to get your klez on, people!

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings[@] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

HEAR what else she has to say every week on Bonjour Chai