Revisiting Fiddler on the Roof

What’s not to like about Fiddler? 7511522838649159578

Foot tapping, hum–along, memorable music and lyrics, stunning choreography, and a story that resonates, 52 years after the show first appeared on Broadway.

Based on Ukraine writer Sholem Aleichem’s (1859- 1916) short stories, “Tevye the Dairyman,Fiddler on the Roof is set in the Pale of Settlement, Tsarist Russia, in 1905. Tevye, a poor milkman, and his wife Golde, have five daughters and live in the village of Anatevka.

Anatevka, Anatevka.
Underfed overworked Anatevka.
Where else could Sabbath be so sweet?
Anatevka, Anatevka.
Intimate, obstinate Anatevka,
Where I know everyone I meet.

It’s a story of traditions, particularly those maintained by Jews, and challenges to those traditions amid political turbulence and discrimination, resulting in the eviction of the Jews.

It’s my grandfather Abraham’s story. At age 16, he left his family to journey to the United States, speaking no English. He was alone, without a job or family, and joined the Diaspora of Jewish immigrants fleeing Tsarist Russia. Processed through Ellis Island, NY, his last name was changed—perhaps because of pronunciation, to Klein.

Soon I’ll be a stranger in a strange new place,
Searching for an old familiar face
From Anatevka.

At this week’s matinee of Fiddler, I shared this story with my nieces, Sonia and Dasha, the only descendants of my paternal grandfather and grandmother who have the Klein last name. I’d met them, my mother and brother for the outing. Dasha’s school musical next year is Fiddler on the Roof and she hopes to audition for a part. Neither girl knew the story or music and loved it.  IMG_1390

I first saw the 1964 Broadway musical in New Haven, CT, as soon as it went on tour from New York City. My parents had seen it on Broadway and loved it. My father would prance around the kitchen, imitating Zero Mostel’s Tevye interpretion, singing “If I Were a Rich Man,” or taunting my mother with his rendition of “Do You Love Me.” I loved the 1971 film version, mostly because people said I resembled one of the daughters.

Since then, I know I’ve seen it a few more times at various professional and community theaters. I know the songs by heart.  This time, I found myself comparing life then and now.

Politically, there are refugees worldwide escaping violence and discrimination, resulting in floods of immigrants to strange new lands, many not so willing to take them in. Their exodus is brought to us minute by minute via social media. We witness drownings on our phones and then move on to browse for bathing suits.

Technology too has changed the personal aspect. Children going off to distant lands can stay in touch via phone, text, Skype, email and so on. The world is smaller than it was in the early 1900’s. Airplanes make visiting possible. During intermission, I mentioned to my brother how he must be used to saying goodbye to Sonia, who attends college in Scotland and is about to leave for a year in Australia.

How can I hope to make you understand
Why I do, what I do,
Why I must travel to a distant land

 Yet at its core, Fiddler is a story about parenting. Accepting the choices your adult children make, no matter how difficult, is probably the most challenging part of being a parent. It’s about trusting that you did everything you could to prepare them for the world, and hoping they retain the values you tried to impart.

As in “Sunrise, Sunset”:

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older
When did they?

 The original Broadway production of Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years and remains Broadway’s 16th longest-running show  in history and has been performed in translation around the world, proving that Tevye’s story is universal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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9 Responses to Revisiting Fiddler on the Roof

  1. I remember watching it on TV with my parents Lisa; all of us singing, “If I were a rich man…” ❤
    Diana xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marvelous! Can’t forget your conversation with Aunt Sylvia when you moved to England. he said it’s not like it was when her parents came to the U.S. and wondered if they would see their parents again.We were lucky and managed a few visits between Connecticut and London

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such gorgeous music… sniffle, sniffle.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marsha says:

    I love Fiddler on the Roof more than most any other production. I’ve never seen it on Broadway but seen the movie numerous times. Last year our County Office produced the play, and it was fabulous. The student who played Tevye had the best comedic sense of timing, I’ve ever heard. Your history of both the play and your personal background makes this a fabulous post. BTW, on another subject, how are the book sales going? Want to do an interview for my blog to promote it?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fiddler on the Roof is one of our favorite musicals, not just because it is also the story of our family, who left Odessa after the devastating pogrom of 1905, and entered this country through Ellis Island. It is a beautiful and bittersweet story, with poetic lyrics and music that stay with you and which stand on their own. Your description is perfect, “Accepting the choices your adult children make, no matter how difficult, is probably the most challenging part of being a parent. It’s about trusting that you did everything you could to prepare them for the world, and hoping they retain the values you tried to impart.” Thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Naomi. I truly felt a different reaction seeing it now than I have in the past. It’s my story– a son moving to Israel in August. Can’t say I’m happy.. but it’s his life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! That’s a big move, Lisa, and one he must feel passionate about. It might not be permanent. I’m still waiting to see where my chicks choose to roost.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. It’s been my son’s dream since he spent a gap year there in 2005. Now going with a wife and 4 kids 5 and under. I’ll worry for sure and miss them a lot. Not so easy to visit there. I hope it won’t be permanent.

        Like

  6. Pingback: Adult Coloring Books: Color Your Dreams | cyclingrandma

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