Fiddler in Yiddish

 

A fidler afn dakh, arop fun zinen, ha?

That’s Yiddish for “A fiddler on the roof—sounds crazy, no?”

It’s the opening line of the 1964 musical, Fiddler on the Roof, based on stories by Sholem Aleichem  about Tevye the Dairyman and his five daughters. Set in the Pale of Settlement during Tsarist Russia, it represents the effects of change—from traditions to modernity on the family and community. Tevye’s beliefs are challenged when his daughters choose to marry for love, defying the tradition that matchmakers arrange marriages. Ultimately, Tevye and his neighbors, facing eviction due to religious persecution, must leave their beloved village of Anatevka, seeking refuge far from the home they love.

When it opened in 1964, Fiddler became the first musical in history to surpass 3,000 performances and held the record for longest-running Broadway musical for nearly 10 years until Grease usurped the title. In 1971, it became an award-winning movie.

It’s been performed around the world from professional theaters to community groups to high schools. The song “Sunrise, Sunset” is a standard at Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs.

It’s been translated into many languages, among them Yiddish, where it was first performed in Israel in 1965.  A revival by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, in New York City has been extended twice and is heading off-Broadway in February.

At first, I wasn’t interested. Why see a musical, one that I’ve seen countless times and can sing every lyric and recite every line? Would seeing it in Yiddish make much difference?

Then the show received rave reviews, and I asked my friend Yvonne, another musical theater lover, to join me.

Yiddish was the language spoken by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. It’s what my grandparents spoke to their three children, first-generation Americans, one who is my father. My parents would speak Yiddish when they didn’t want my three siblings and me to understand what they were saying. Now my father, at 90 ½, worries he’s losing his fluency, having no one to speak it with.   I know several words and phrases, and many sayings have become part of the American English lexicon. (Think schlep, or maven, or oi vey.)

From the first downbeat, I was enthralled in ways I never imagined. Staged in an intimate theater, directed by Joel Grey, and featuring the original Jerome Robbins choreography, the show—albeit familiar- seemed fresh and evermore poignant in Yiddish. At first, I thought I wouldn’t need the subtitles, in both English and Russian, but found myself sneaking glances at the screens. Some of the words are different: If I Were a Rich Man becomes If I Were a Rothschild, among many others.

At one point, Yvonne turned to me and said: “This makes all other performances a caricature.”

Unfolding before us is a story of immigrants fleeing persecution, of families being separated by beliefs, long distances, totalitarian regimes, and intolerance.

And that’s a story in any language, in any place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in commentary, Family, History, Judaism, Music, New York City, reviews, Theater | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Building Bridges: Better Angels

Engagement is more productive than hate. Knowledge is more powerful than ignorance. With this in mind, I’ve been looking for ways to interact with people whose political views are opposed to mine. I worry about the world I’m leaving my grandchildren – a feeling shared, I hope, by other grandparents and parents- no matter their political views.

Attending a “Talking Across the Political Divide” workshop sponsored by Better Angels, I practiced a few basic communication techniques. Founded in 2016, this non-partisan organization strives to bring politically disparate Americans together in an effort to unify the nation. In a crowd however of majority liberal-leaning individuals, the conversations were more role-playing than actual scenarios, so using “I” messages, like “I hear that you believe…” or “I understand…” seemed a bit contrived. Yet I could see how these methods may open paths to a civil discussion.

However, there are some issues and beliefs I can’t and won’t tolerate and am prepared to argue, loudly. For instance, Mississippi Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s comment about a supporter: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row,” I find heinous and deplorable. This is racism that shouldn’t be condoned. If this is what the other side believes, I can’t accept it. More people need to hear and heed the famous lyrics from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, South Pacific, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

But then President Trump announced his support of revising the country’s prison and sentencing laws—a bipartisan initiative called the First Step Act already passed by the House that would change federal policies that incarcerated African-American offenders at much higher rates than white offenders. The bill includes funding for anti-recidivism programs and other measures that would affect tens of thousands of current inmates and future offenders.

Bi-partisanship can work, obviously. Let’s hope the new Congress, with all the fresh, diverse faces, will work together to build the bridges needed to preserve our democracy and make the world a better place—for my grandkids and yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in aging, commentary, Education, Family, Grandchildren, politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cycling Israel

Seeing Israel by bike is a whole lot different than seeing it from a tour bus. We’d heard about the Israel Ride from friends who’d done it and felt it would be a great way to combine a cycling trip with a visit to our son and his family. After all, we hadn’t yet met our new grandson, born in July.

This is a charity ride, benefitting two organizations: The Arava Institute, http://arava.org/ an environmental academic institution in the heart of the desert, and Hazon,  a New York-based non-profit committed to food sustainability. We received lots of information all summer about training, weather conditions, Israel security, routes, and packing.

While we’ve done plenty of cycling trips, we’ve never done a multi-day charity ride that included more than 200 riders and 60 crew. We’ve never ridden in the desert where it’s hot and dry all day.IMG_0937

The ride began in Jerusalem. The first day we rode west to the seaside city of Ashkelon, and took a well-deserved dip in the Mediterranean. The next day brought us inland. By late morning, the wind had increased causing severe dust storms. The limited visibility forced the ride leaders (and the police escorts) to cancel the afternoon ride. We’d heard about possible heavy rain—in which case, we wouldn’t be able to ride as Israel forbids riding in the rain. There was rain in the north that posed a threat of potential flash flooding across the desert. So we lost a day of riding and did some touring, including a stop to the ever-inspiring Sde-Boker, where Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion lived and is buried. IMG_0876(Ibex at Sde Boker).

We were bused to Mitzpe Ramon, site of the famous Ramon Crater, or machtesh.  At 500 meters deep (about 1,640 feet), 40 kilometers long, (25 miles), 10 kilometers at its widest point, (about 6 miles); it’s considered the largest in the world. Created by erosion, the views are magnificent. The ride down the crater, complete with narrow switchbacks was breathtaking. We then traversed the crater floor and rode out the other side.  That night we stayed in a kibbutz and learned how these fascinating communities operate. Incomes are pooled;  meals are communal; medical care is provided. The last day we descended into Eliat, seeing four countries as we rode: Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. We took a dip in the Red Sea to celebrate and packed our bikes for a couple days in the north with family.

There we toured Qumran National Park,FullSizeRender (32) the archeological site on the shore of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered hidden in caves.

IMG_3024

(Halvah for lunch!)

 

 

Posted in bike riding, Cycling, Education, environment, Family, Judaism, travel, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Bring It Home, White Women

hecatedemeter

marchers from the Women's March

Because if we really are going to see a #BlueWave on Tuesday, that’s who we’re depending on – college educated, suburban white women who usually vote Republican. Does that terrify you? It does me as well, and I AM a white woman (although I do not live in the suburbs or ever vote Republican).

Yes, we need the black community to show up in Obama-era numbers, even though he isn’t on the ballot.

Yes, we need Hispanic and Latino men to get over their machismo and vote for the Democrat, even if she’s a she.

Yes, we need the 40+% of young people who CLAIM they’re going to vote to ACTUALLY SHOW UP to vote.

But the richest target for FLIPPED votes is the 44% of college educated white women who voted for Trump and in the intervening years have FINALLY seen the patriarchy for what it is.

I do…

View original post 699 more words

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday: Frankenstein & Little Women

What writer wouldn’t want to say their book has never been out of print? That their book captivates generation after generation, and continues to inspire countless retellings, radio shows, movies, plays, and cartoons?

Two women writers share these distinctions and their works are celebrating birthday milestones.

In 1816, Mary Shelley, then 18, spent a summer with her poet husband, Percy Shelley and other literary luminaries in a large manor house along Italy’s Lake Como. Having exhausted the manor’s supply of ghost stories that the guests read aloud each evening, they decided to write their own. The story Mary Shelley wrote became the bones of the classic, Frankenstein, that she polished and published two years later as a novel.

Nearly 50 years later, in 1867, in Concord, Massachusetts, then 35-year-old Louisa May Alcott received a request from her publisher that would change her life. He wanted her to write a “girls’ book,” an assignment she shunned. But she needed the money to support her family – and modeled the famous Marches after her own siblings and parents. She wrote over 400 pages in 10 weeks leading to Little Women being published in 1868. A print run of 2,000 books sold out quickly, sending Louisa May back to her desk to write what became the second part of the same novel.

Both books have never gone out of print. Considered classics, they are read by all ages, have been translated into more than 50 languages, and continue to be interpreted for their roles in literature, and their relationships to social and political issues over different time periods.

Two new books addressing the books’ place in the 21st century compliment the birthday celebrations. For Frankenstein’s 200th, there’s Frankenstein: How a Monster Became an Icon, edited by Sidney Perkowitz and Eddy von Mueller; and for Little Women’s 150th there’s Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters, by Anne Boyd Rioux.

I’d read quite a few articles about Rioux’s book; and then stumbled upon the other while browsing the new bookshelf at my library. Both are fascinating reads.

I came to Frankenstein probably first via the 1931 Boris Karloff movie and later read the novel after seeing a stage adaptation several years ago. Perkowitz and von Mueller have edited essays by various Frankenstein scholars to discuss the novel’s eternal themes as relevant today as 200 years ago.

At its core, the novel addresses man’s desire to defeat death. In this case, a scientist creates life from death. The novel takes on the ubiquitous question of science versus ethics. As genetic manipulation becomes more mainstream, the issue of how much is too much becomes pertinent. Should science be used to produce superior human beings? Who decides?

Furthermore, the creature conjured in Victor Frankenstein’s lab represents the outsider who is immediately feared and harassed. It shows xenophobia at its worst. In Shelley’s writing, she didn’t explicitly describe the creature’s appearance; instead she portrayed him through how other characters saw him. Who is the monster?

A case can be made that the monster is Victor Frankenstein; a wealthy, privileged man who used his entitlement to dabble in science with no regard to the consequences, abusing power and ethics.

I read Little Women as a child, and like many girls, fell in love with the book and wanted to be Jo. I loved her independence and her desire to be a writer. I loved the antics of the March sisters, and of course, the idea of romance. I’ve seen a few movie versions, especially the 1994 adaptation with Winona Ryder as Jo and a young, handsome Christian Bale as Laurie. I wasn’t alone in my love affair with the book and my yearning to emulate Jo. According to Rioux’s book, Little Women, and Jo, in particular, gave girls, and the women they became, permission to become writers. The book validated the idea of a girl expressing her own opinions, earning a living writing, and that their lives mattered. By giving voices to a gender accustomed to being silenced, Little Women served as a precursor to the modern memoir. Some writers who claim inspiration from Louisa May Alcott include: Anna Quindlen, Jane Smiley, Nora and Delia Ephron, Barbara Kingsolver, Simone de Beauvoir, and Gloria Steinem.

Yet why has it survived?

Rioux contends Little Women transcends time and place, presents a realistic portrait of home and family, and has allowed its readers to adapt its themes to the times. In the 1940’s the book served as a reminder to soldiers that this was the America they were fighting to preserve. By the 1970’s, with the rise of feminism, the book was analyzed for its relationships between women and the development of women’s identities. Little Women challenges readers to consider the many different ways girls can become women.

I wonder what the next 150 and 200 years will bring for these powerful novels.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books, commentary, Education, History, reviews, women, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Judy’s Wellness Cafe: My Granola

My post on Judy’s blog:

http://judyswellnesscafe.com/?p=5841

Posted in food, health, Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Celebrating Heroes

The distractions of current events keep us from celebrating true heroes. Over the past several days, the winners of the Nobel Prize have been named in fields of medicine, chemistry, physics, and peace. These individuals have dedicated their lives to the greater good and received deserved recognition. Their work affects our everyday lives. 

In case you missed hearing about them, here’s a recap. The descriptions are directly from the Nobel website. For more information, go there, and read about these amazing people.

Medicine
Drs. James P. Allison & Tasuku Honio: “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.”

I watched an interview with Dr. Allison on PBS. He explained his research that saved a young woman who’d been diagnosed with multiple melanoma cancer. His treatment cured her. She was able to marry and have two children and attended Dr. Allison’s 70th birthday party.

Physics
Arthur Ashkin, for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems.”

In other words, his work with lazers and eyes. My husband and countless others have had successful lazer surgery. Ashkin received half the prize and the other half went to Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland, “for their method of generating high-intensity, ultra-short optical pulses.”

Chemistry
Frances H. Arnold, half, ”for the directed evolution of enzymes” and the other half jointly to George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter ”for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”. The laureates have been “been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles – genetic change and selection – to develop proteins that solve mankind’s chemical problems.

Peace
Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.

I implore you to read about these heroes, especially given the #MeToo movement and current news regarding the Supreme Court. Dr. Mukwege has treated thousands of victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Murad, herself a victim of multiple rapes at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq, chose to speak up about her experiences in hopes of drawing attention to the issue and helping others.

The Economics award will be announced next week.

Additionally this week, 25 people received the MacArthur Genius Awards, given to individuals pursuing creative endeavors in their professions. Recipients this year include scientists, writers, artists, and advocates for social justice and human rights.

These inspiring stories gave me some hope after a dreadful week watching the Supreme Court hearings.

There are plenty of people dedicated to helping others, who maintain ethical standards and conduct themselves with no regard to politics.

These people are working to repair the world.

These are the people I want my grandchildren to read about and emulate when they grow up.

 

 

 

Posted in celebrations, commentary, Education, Grandchildren, politics, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments