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Fiddler on the Roof
Mom with a View

Fiddler on the Roof

Why don't more people view this show as a searing tragedy?

by

In Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War," the leading character's wife is portrayed as a nasty shrew and I found myself rooting for him to have an affair with his much more pleasant co-worker. When I saw how my emotions could be swayed in favor of an illicit relationship, a relationship that is abhorrent to me both personally and morally, I told myself, No more. This type of story is not good for my soul.

I felt the same way when a friend recently sent me an advertisement for the revival of the Broadway musical, "Fiddler on the Roof" -- starring Topol, no less.

"Fiddler on the Roof" has come to hold a warm and sentimental role in the hearts of Diaspora Jewry. Yet despite the clever lyrics and beautiful melodies, it's really the story of a tragedy.

And I'm not even referring to the whitewashed and glorified presentation of shtetl life in the mythical town of Anatevka. Mythical it is for sure. Poverty has never looked so good. And dancing with the Cossacks? That's an image victims of their raging and murderous pogroms must have shuddered to watch.

There was so much pain in Jewish life then and there (hence the vast immigration to America) that it's hard to look at those stylized images and not cringe.

But that's not the truly tragic part. While some view the movie or play and applaud the dawning of a new era -- daughters choosing their spouses without any regard to their parents' wishes of the ties of tradition, I see the destruction of the Jewish people. I see the lack of education and the inability of the parents to convey why it matters. And I weep.

Watching performances of "Fiddler on the Roof," it's easy to get swept up in the story and to sympathize with the daughters in their quest to follow their own paths. That's why it's destructive. That's why my children have seen "The Sound of Music" about 150 times and "Fiddler on the Roof" not once.

The show evokes an empathy with the girls that is confusing and damaging. I've spent my whole adult life trying to teach the beauty of our heritage, trying to demonstrate why it's so precious, trying to show what's worth holding on to.

What kind of evening's entertainment can it possibly be to attend a performance that shows how easily that it can all be swept away? And presents that choice as a good one?

The eldest daughter marries a boy of her own choosing as opposed to that of her parents. In the movie, her parent's pick is presented as totally inappropriate and the idea of parental involvement in this area mocked as foolish. This invalidates a whole culture where children respect their parents, recognize their wisdom and turn to them for help in choosing a prospective mate.

The middle daughter marries a boy who has renounced his relationship to Judaism and has become an ardent Communist. In the storyline, the father, Tevye, learns to accept this turn of events.

The third and youngest daughter goes to the farthest extreme and marries a non-Jew.

We never stop loving our children. But that doesn't mean we accept and validate all their actions and choices. Especially the ones that fly in the face of everything we hold dear.

To be charmed by a show that implicitly endorses intermarriage is something I think I may be immune to. Even my emotional involvement in the lives of the characters can't quite get me there. But I don't even want to risk the possibility.

Pop culture has a profound effect on our values. Is this "little girl I carried" continuing the Jewish tradition of her ancestors? If not, what is there to sing about?

Published: June 6, 2009


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Visitor Comments: 55

(55) Raymond, February 8, 2013 8:10 PM

Do Not Quite Agree With Mrs Braverman

I do not quite agree with Mrs Braverman. Of course I agree that marrying a communist or gentile is not a good thing, but to me, there is a huge difference between parents disapproving of the choice for spouse made by their children, and parents choosing the spouses for their children from the start. In other words,I think that the whole procedure needs to be reversed: instead of the parents choosing who their children marry, with their children essentially only having veto power, it would be better to have the parent's children choose their potential spouses, with the parents having veto power. And as for Hollywood movies not accurately representing reality, I think that most people know by now that Hollywood takes some creative license in order to make the movie more compelling. Think of the movie Titanic, how that whole love story was completely made up, yet successfully enhanced telling the true story of the Titanic.

(54) Kate, December 21, 2010 3:48 AM

Disagree!

When I read this article, I was shocked! How could anybody not allow their children to watch Fiddler on the Roof?! This movie is part of our heritage, a lesson about tradition, and a reminder of our past. Breaking traditions is the theme of the story, to help viewers further understand the changes in Russia. Your opinions about interfaith marriages are very judgemental and I find it amazing one would disregard a movie just because of this! I am thouroughly shocked at this article.

(53) Kelly, July 6, 2010 2:49 PM

FIddler and other ponderings..

I saw this movie when I was a child in the 1970s. My father (who made Archie Bunker seem cordial) referred to it as that "Old, Loud, Jew movie!" He is since deceased, but after his death I discovered that I may have Jewish blood from his side of the family He apparently changed his name to hide this fact. At any rate, even as a child I was enthralled by this movie. I often went to my friend's house to watch it during the Holidays to avoid the bigotted rhetoric. I recall even at the age of 10 how I admired the courage and spirit of the Jewish people that seemed to be portrayed therein. I was not necessarily convinced that going against tradition was the right choice for the girls, and frankly I am still not convinced that this country's current lack of "tradition" has been or continues to be such. I will say that whether I do in fact turn out to be one of God's chosen people by virtue of my deceased, bigoted father's blood line; In my opinion, It is human to question GOD and most Traditions. Did not Abram do that very thing before he claimed GOD was the one true GOD? As a former assumed exclusive "goyum" (I'm laughing, I hope that you are as well;-) this movie caused me to re-research history (that I sadly never learned in our fine public school system) regarding the 1905 period regarding the Jewish people and the Pogrums. This movie (though it may have been intended as propaganda or a sentimental portrayal caused me to think deeper, rather than accept it at "face value" and a recent re-viewing of the "Classic" (in my opinion) had the same effect, as I sought out this site as a result. The threads that bind "Traditions" for some people may be constricting, but for me who lived without any functional example of "Family, Home, or Hearth" they are a sought after (albeit perhaps romanticized;-) tool to re-thread the fabric of my life. Even perhaps (however distantly) weaving them into the coat of many colors that "Joseph" once wore? Shalom, Kelly

(52) Larry Weisenthal, July 23, 2009 10:31 AM

Continuation of "Half-Jew reacts to Fiddler on the Roof commentary"

(I bumped up against a word limit in my previous comment. I don't think it was "fair" to allow me to fill the comment box with a lot of verbiage, only to be told, after I'd put in all the time writing, that my comment was too long - here's the rest): My second comment is that Fiddler on the Roof is a story which expresses a universality of human experience and emotion, which transcends the ostensible Jewishness of its characters. Tevia's reaction to his daughter marrying outside the faith (or outside the tribe) was no different at all from the pain felt by my own late in-laws, when their daughter married a half-Jew outside of her own (non-Jewish) faith. Because of my personal experience with this situation, I have great empathy for all people of faith and/or tribal identify and/or "tradition," when their sons and daughters marry outside of the fold. As a final comment, I just tonight saw Topol, himself, play Tevia at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, and he was absolutely sensational, as was the entire production. The man is truely ageless and his portrayal of Tevia is a true role for the ages. I highly recommend this performance to anyone who still has the possibility of obtaining a ticket.

(51) Anonymous, July 23, 2009 10:27 AM

A half-Jew's appreciation of Fiddler on the Roof

I believe that I read that perhaps as many as 50% of American Jews today marry non-Jews. As a half-Jew myself, I am very interested in what might be called "tribal" Judaism. My father doesn't have a single religious bone in is body, yet he's a fiercely tribal Jew, who, in 1973 took vacation time from his job as a Ford automotive engineer to travel to Israel to volunteer to serve Israel during the Yom Kippur war. Ironically, he was offered the opportunity to work for Topol, himself, who's Israeli army job during this conflict was to take care of American Jewish VIPs who were basically "war tourists." My Dad declined this opportunity, preferring to do something which he considered to be more substantive, which was driving a large supply truck all over Israel for the duration of the war. He still proudly displays his official Israeli army service and discharge papers, along with photographs he took at the time. The point is that he has total and utter devotion to Israel and total and utter identification of himself as a Jew, despite his lack of religious belief. On the other hand, I, as a half-Jew, feel about my Jewish half-roots the same way that I feel about my Finnish half-roots. I'm very proud of both, but I feel no more special sense of Jewish kinship than I do of Finnish kinship. Each is a proud part of my heritage, but neither defines who I am, in the way that my father's 100% Jewishness defines who he is. I've tried to understand, but never have been able to understand, how totally different each of us feels, regarding Jewishness. It's almost as if it is all or nothing. I think that I should, perhaps, feel half as strongly as he feels regarding Jewish identity and affinity for Israel. But it's more like 10%, or even less. I guess the difference is that, for me, Jewishness is simply a heritage. For my Dad, it's an identity. (continued in following comment).

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