Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fiddler and Confessions

This post isn't very theological... more observational (and confessional).

This week, we went to see the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof.  This is my third time seeing it live, and if you count the number of times I've seen the movie starring Topol, it probably comes closer to about thirty or forty. 

The first time I saw Fiddler live was in the late 1980s.  I met my cousin in NY for the weekend and we got same-day half price tickets. I was coming down with a fever and sore throat, so I sat suffering through the musical, wondering when it would be over and I could go to bed.  I didn't even remotely get what it was about.

Ironically, I met this same cousin in Boston for a fun weekend during that same era.  I don't remember if it was before or after the weekend in NY.  Anyway, we spent about seven hours in the Bull and Finch Pub (the bar that inspired Cheers), and I have a memory from there that I believe was a turning point in my life.  A couple had joined us at our table, and we laughed and joked with them for a long time.  To my deep shame, I told a totally racist and disgusting joke about the Jewish people.  Suddenly the couple got up and left.  I looked at my cousin in dawning horror and wondered aloud if perhaps those people were Jewish.  (I was not following the Lord during this time in my life, in case you were wondering).

I will NEVER ever forget that night.  If I could find those people today and tell them how deeply sorry I was, I would.  Who knows?  Perhaps someday one of them will stumble on this blog, read this, and know how much I regret those careless, hurtful words.

I believe God used that shameful episode in my life to begin to open my heart toward the Jewish people.  I had grown up in an area where there were no Jewish people at all... I think I met my first one at around age 21.  I knew absolutely nothing about them, even though I was raised in the Catholic church.  I vaguely remember hearing the word "Israel" in church, but didn't know much else.

Okay, back to Fiddler.  Every time I see it, my love for the Jewish people grows, and the other night was no exception.  I found myself with tears in my eyes many times throughout the play. 

A little history:  Fiddler debuted on Broadway on September 22, 1964 (a mere month after I made my own debut into the world), and set a record with a run of 3,242 performances.  The play was based on two things. The plot stems from a series of short stories written in the late 1800s by Sholem Aleichem called "Tevye the Milkman and Other Stories." The painting by Orthodox Jewish-raised Marc Chagall around 1912 called "Le Violiniste" gave the musical its title.  The Fiddler is a metaphor for survival, through tradition and joyfulness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance. Chagall painted the face of his fiddler green - in the artistic world, this signifies importance.  In Orthodox Jewish culture, the village fiddler was an important figure, playing his music for all pivotal life events:  Births, weddings, funerals, and other cultural and religious celebrations.

As I study Jewish history and culture, I keep finding myself comparing what I learn to what I already know from Fiddler.  They are a people who, sadly, are used to persecution.  Tradition is extremely important to them, so much so that it causes Tevye to disown his daughter when she marries a gentile.  This still happens today.  Recently I was reading the difference in prayer styles between Jews and Christians.  While Christians tend to close our eyes and bow our heads in a more solemn way, the Jewish people tend to pray with their eyes open, talking aloud to God as if He is in the room.  "Wow!" I thought.  "Just like Tevye!"

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