While some of my friends and neighbors are getting ready for the holiday season by watching Christmas specials, I recently decided to watch a different sort of “tradition-al” film— Fiddler on the Roof.
“Fiddler” is celebrating 50 years since it first opened on Broadway. Like many people, I associate the musical with old-world life in the shtetl. But, watching it recently, I was struck by how much remains relevant to Jewish life today, particularly during the holiday season.
As Tevye, the main character, and his family face the influences of secularism and Christianity, he struggles to reconcile his love for his family with his love of tradition. And, when his daughters’ pursuit of love comes up against his passion for tradition, he is willing to adapt, and he does…until he can’t.
The struggle reaches a climax when his third daughter marries a Christian. After his dreams of arranging his daughters’ marriages has already been shattered by his two older daughters (with the eldest marrying a poor tailor, despite Tevye having promised her to a wealthy butcher, and the next one leaving home to join her political prisoner love in Siberia), the final straw comes when his third daughter proclaims her intentions to wed outside the faith. When she and her beloved come to him, their exchange is painful:
CHAVA: Papa, I beg you to accept us.
TEVYE [to himself/to the heavens, as the others all freeze]: Accept them? How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in? On the other hand, can I deny my own daughter? On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith? My people? If I try and bend that far, I will break. On the other hand…No. There is no other hand.
What I find most beautiful about this musical is that regardless of whether one thinks Tevye should be more accepting of his daughters’ choices or if you think that his daughters ought to have more reverence for the traditions with which they were raised (matchmaking included), one cannot help but admire the characters’ willingness to struggle.
Holidays seem to bring this struggle to the forefront as our observance of tradition is made public with whether and how we celebrate Hanukkah—whether we put a menorah in our windowsill for all to see, whether we have people over for latkes and whether we give children gelt or gifts. Perhaps though, the more confusing dilemmas are related to whether and how a Jewish family acknowledges and/or celebrates Christmas.
I encourage everyone who struggles to watch Fiddler on the Roof. If nothing else, it is proof that those who struggle are not alone and that the struggle is not exclusive to our generation. I also believe that an even more profound message is in this classic film – a lesson not to be too quick to judge others for their choices during the holiday season. Remember, for each “on the one hand,” there is an “on the other hand.” Because even though Tevye initially says “there is no other hand”…. His struggle does not end there. He only seems to reach a wall—but the wall is porous, as we see Tevye’s love for his daughter shine through. When the Jews of Anatevka are forced to leave, Tevye’s daughter Chava and her Christian husband come to bid farewell to her family. They express that they, too, cannot stay in a place where people are treated so poorly. At first, Tevye does not acknowledge her but as she walks away, he mumbles: “And God be with you.”
During this holiday season, let us honor the struggle Jews have faced for centuries and recognize that there is a myriad of ways in which we could honor tradition and the choices of our families, friends and neighbors. And, as we try and stay true to our “on the one hand,” let us always remember that somewhere there lies an “on the other hand.”
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It’s a Southern Snow Day, y’all! This means a few things. Everyone should be careful on the roads or stay home, of course; safety first.
Here’s what else a Southern Snow Day really means:
1. Everyone is required to post SOMETHING on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram about the fact that there is SNOW ON STUFF. (Seriously, if you don’t have a social media account, you get one. This is why Facebook was invented!)
2. The grocery stores are really, really low on milk, bread, and eggs. As one Southern friend of mine cleverly pointed out: “We will protect ourselves with a layer of French Toast!”
3. Kids get confused, and then delighted. ISJL COO Michele Schipper reports: “My son had -to quote him- a ‘panic attack’ when he woke up late for school, and didn’t understand why I didn’t get him up!” Once the shock wears off, though, most Southern kids love snow days, even if there’s not really enough snow to make an actual snow man. Snow ball fights for your Lego people, anyone?!
4. We get teased a lot by our loved ones up North, scoffing at our big ol’ reaction to one or two inches of snow. And yes, all right, all right. We know it’s worse up North. We know. But seriously, we’re not used to seeing weather app updates like these:
(Of course, take note of the projections for later this week… 70 degrees by Saturday? This is why allergies are bad down here! But hey, if you don’t like the weather, wait a day or two!)
Stay warm and stay safe, whether you’re in the South and this white stuff is a novelty or whether you’re somewhere where this wintry weather and snowy-cold is getting old by this point. Cocoa helps, either way!