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A Fiddler on the Roof? Sounds Messugah, Nu?

11/26/2018 08:31:10 PM


Three years ago, I saw the most recent Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof which highlighted the fact that there are modern day refugees who have been forced out of their homes much in the same way Tevye and his family had to leave Anatevka. Staging the musical from this angle showed me how far we have come and gave me so much hope for the future.

Now, a few years later and in a much different political climate, I saw National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s excellent production of Fiddler in Yiddish. My takeaway from this poignantly authentic performance was one of fear. Hatred starts small, and often escalates to a level where we are influenced by attitudes of society rather than personal convictions. “I don’t know why there has to be this trouble between people,” says the Constable. Regardless, he proceeds to carry out the Czar’s orders in spite of his friendship with Tevye. In the Yiddish staging, this scene gave me the chills. If the hate crimes we have seen over the past few weeks and months continue, we are taking giant steps backwards in terms of the most basic freedoms that our nation stands upon. Hatred is contagious, and even those who don't hate themselves will inevitably follow the crowd. 

When performed in English, Fiddler takes in an air of kitschiness. Tevye's reminiscences of what "the Good Book says" become a comic catchphrase. In Yiddish, his words are elevated to the level of Torah. Even though the teachings may be the same no matter how you slice it, making this immediate connection to Torah reminds us of the longevity of our traditions and our responsibility to keep them alive. Fiddler may be a musical comedy, but when stripped to it's core it becomes a deep lens into a world of hatred that is not as far away as it may seem from the outset. 


Thu, June 30 2022 1 Tammuz 5782