Fiddler on the Roof

-an article for the NSNews ‘Spiritually Speaking’ column

"Do you love me?" said Tevye the milkman to his wife Golda.  "How can you talk of love right now? Have you lost your mind?", Golda replies.  In the one of the most dramatic moments of the ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ musical, Tevye and Golda struggle to discover what twenty-five years of married life really mean.  Is it just washing socks and raising children, or is there something deeper, something more lasting?  "Do you love me?" Tevye said.  In a similar way, God wants to know if we really love Him.  That is why the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5 calls us to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength’.  That is why Psalm 116 begins by saying ‘I love the Lord, for he has heard my voice’.  Like Tevye and Golda, my wife and I are celebrating our 25th Silver Wedding Anniversary.  We too are discovering afresh that marriage really matters, and that our hearts must remain soft towards each other.  In both marriage and spirituality, it never works to just go through the motions.
‘Fiddler on the Roof’, while turned into a 1953 play by Arnold Perl and a 1957 musical by Joseph Stein, was originally written by the world’s most famous Yiddish writer, Shalom Aleichem.  Following an anti-Jewish pogrom in Russia, Shalom decided to emigrate to North America.  Always labeled the ‘Yiddish Mark Twain’, he finally was able to meet Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens).  Mark Twain reportedly told Shalom how humorous he found that label, because people had always referred to him as ‘the American Shalom Aleichem’.  As one of the most prolific authors of any world literature, Shalom’s collected works spanned a full 28 volumes.  When refused the hand of his future wife Olga, Shalom wrote such a heart-breaking love story that his future father-in-law recanted.  Shalom’s real name was Shalom Rabinowitz but he used a pseudonym because his wealthy father saw Yiddish as a ‘gutter language’ unworthy of the intelligentsia who wrote in Hebrew and Russian. 
My two teenage sons just had the privilege of being Tevye and Lazar Wolf in their BCCA School’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.  What a joy to see them blossom and grow through such an uplifting experience.  Their school teachers, Mr. Bruce and Mrs. Birth, deserve a round of applause for their amazing gift of calling forth creativity in motivated young people.  There are so many wonderful teenagers and teachers out there doing amazing creative work, yet so often all we hear are the bad-news stories about teens as muggers and break-in artists, and teachers as angry protesters.  I believe that vibrant high schools plays can make or break a school.  What a privilege to have our sons in a school led by a courageous, discerning principal, Mr. Ian Jarvie, who ensures that BCCA is a no-go zone for bullying, abuse, and promiscuity.  What a privilege to have our boys in a school where it is ‘cool’ to want to learn and where prayer is not seen as weird or forbidden.

There are so many lessons to be learned from Fiddler on the Roof for those with ears to hear.  A strong message that keeps coming through is joy in the midst of suffering.  When Tevye and Lazar Wolf celebrated their agreement about Lazar Wolf’s marriage to Tzeitel, they sang about God’s desire that we be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor, and how much more should we be joyful when there’s really something to be joyful for!  "To Life, to Life, L’Chaim", they sang, reminding us of the foundational truth that Life is stronger than death, that Life is infinitely precious in God’s sight.  In all the troubles and setbacks of life, God is calling us again and again to ‘Choose life that we and our children may live’ (Deut. 30:19).

My prayer for those reading this article is that in the midst of all the societal pressures to embrace the ways of death and destruction, that each of us may choose daily to embrace the precious gift of Life, life full and overflowing, abundant and free.

The Reverend Ed Hird, Rector, St. Simon’s Anglican Church

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