by Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor of the Jewish Press
On Dec. 21 and 22, Fiddler on the Roof will make its appearance at the Jewish Community Center. Cast and crew of the JCC Musical Theater Community Acting Group have been working their tails off for months, and if you’ve been in the building on a random Sunday afternoon, you may have heard them. They sound pretty good, so you probably shouldn’t miss it.
Except to maybe the youngest among us, Fiddler is as comfortable as a well-worn sweater. The story Sholem Aleichem published (originally titled Tevye and his Daughters) in 1894 has been popular for a reason: with survival as its main theme, Tevye’s struggles continue to resonate. But it is also a story of displacement and transformation. Life is changing all around the shtetl, and the shtetl has to follow—quite literally, as Tevye packs up and leaves all he has known behind.
“Do you love me?” He asks, and while the question is meant for his wife, he is also addressing us, the audience. Do we love Tevye? Do we love what he represents? Do we love our past, our history, or do we discard it, and only pay attention to the here and now?
Just like Tevye, we are faced with a changing landscape. We may not live under the same circumstances (in fact, compared to him, we have it pretty good) but the Cossacks have been replaced with other, less violent threats. We, too, are losing certain traditions and perhaps replacing them with new ones. We are teetering precariously on that roof, wondering whether we’ll fall or keep our balance.
We could respond to Tevye’s question like Golde: “Do we what?” Just like her, we’ve been hard at work all these years. We have built Synagogues, we sent our kids to day school and summer camp and religious school and we celebrated the holidays. We decorated our Sukkahs and fasted on Yom Kippur and rooted for the Jewish candidates during Oscar night. We learned the Hanukkah song by heart, gave Tzedakah, and monitored anti-Semitism and voted for politicians who meshed with our Jewish beliefs. We ate matzah ball soup and kreplach and pastrami sandwiches and gefillte fish; we’ve proudly worn the Star of David around our neck, we traveled to Israel and we even used a Yiddish word now and then. In other words, we’ve raised Tevye’s children and done his laundry. If all that isn’t love, what is?
Golde isn’t merely trying to be witty. It’s a valid question. What is love? What does it mean to truly love our Judaism? Do we focus on the things we do, or on what we feel? How about both?
How we keep our Judaism alive has been a front-and-center issue ever since that Pew poll came out, and it’s a discussion we will be having for quite a while. We watch Tevye, again and again, because we know full well that his concerns are our concerns. What Tevye can teach us is that we won’t know where we are going unless we know where we’ve been. If not physically, then at least spiritually. And that also means that what we face now, today, will someday become our children and grandchildren’s history. How we treat our Judaism, and how we treat each other, how we answer questions and address our challenges, will become another chapter in a very long story.
The important thing is that, just like Tevye, we write that chapter. It is a little scary, asking your wife of 25 years, whether she loves you. What if she says ‘no?’ It is equally scary to ask ourselves whether we truly love our Judaism, and really attempt to answer that question seriously. But asking the question is necessary; if we want to know where we are going, and how we will get there, we have to know the why.
Fiddler on the Roof Junior will be performed live on the JCC stage on Saturday Dec. 21 at 7 p.m., and on Sunday Dec. 22 at 4 p.m. For tickets and more information, please contact Director of Cultural Arts Esther Katz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402.334.6406. This program is generously sponsored by the Karen Sokolof Javitch Music Fund and NEArts Council.