Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore


When you’re an Israeli author looking to translate works from other languages, the Bible is as good a place as any to turn for inspiration for words that seemingly don’t have a translation. So when author Yemima Avidar-Tchernovitz first translated L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” into Hebrew, a 2,500 year old book served as a great launching pad.

Having already looked at the Hebrew translation of the Wizard of Oz years ago, I had a moment of sheer delight last week in our Tanakh class as we started reading the book of Job. Job opens with the line: “אִישׁ הָיָה בְאֶרֶץ עוּץ אִיּוֹב שְׁמוֹ” (There was a man from the Land of Uz, his name was Job). We don’t know much at all about this Land of Uz, though there are theories that it is a generic term for an unknown, easterly place. Sound familiar? Perhaps a place you can’t get to by a boat, or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…

Turns out that the Hebrew title of the Wizard of Oz is “הקוסם מארץ עוץ” – or, “The Magician of Uz.”

The Wizard of Oz is the Wizard of Uz. Not only are the English and Hebrew words phonetically related, there’s an awesome depth to what the Hebrew name evokes. The word choice is brilliant. It connects a book that examines the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” (Job) to another that examines the question “what are good and evil?” (Oz).

I wonder what Israeli kids who have studied Job in school think when they watch or read Oz – does it have a different connotation to them? Do they associated it with their religious/ethnic heritage? Or is it just a damn good story?