Posts Tagged 'Fiddler on the Roof'

Peppercorn, Perchik, and the Pandemic

Before COVID-19 I was focusing on the failing Trump administration, now with COVID-19 I am fearful of a failed state. Will America survive this?

This question reminds me of Tevye. Yes, recently I was doing hazara on Shalom Aleichem’s Tevye the Milkman and I came across an extraordinary quote. There Tevye is telling Shalom Aleichem, who is a character in his own story, about his daughter Hodl.  Peppercorn, or Perchik as we know him from Fiddler on the Roof, is a student revolutionary who comes to Anatevka and falls in love with Hodl. He leaves for Kiev to help in the efforts to overthrow the corrupt government, is arrested, and exiled to Siberia. Tevye is embarrassed to share the news that Hodl is also leaving Anatevka to be with Peppercorn in Siberia.

 Fiddler On The Roof. Amazing Movies, Good Movies, Hot Men, Hot Guys, Paul Michael Glaser, Fiddler On The Roof, Broadway Plays, Character Development, Moving Pictures

There we read:

That did it! I couldn’t keep it in a second longer. You see, just then I thought of my Hodl when I held her as a baby in my arms… she was just a tiny thing then… and I held her in these arms… please forgive me, Pani, if…if I… just like a woman… but I want you to know what a Hodl I have! You should see the letters that she writes me… she’s God’s own Hodl, Hodl is… and she’s with me right here all the time…deep deep down.. there’s just no way to put it into words… You know what, Pani Shalom Aleichem? Let’s talk about something more cheerful. Have you heard any news of the cholera in Odessa?

We see Shalom Aleichem’s comedy of trying to lighten the mood my changing the conversion from his daughter being swept up in the politics of the day to a plague. Today this quote seems prescient. Before COVID-19 Trump was just horrible and an embarrassment. With COVID-19 the Trump administration’s maleficence and gross incompetence is causing suffering and death. I would love to go back to the comedy, but that is just not possible. When will we be able to take a break from the pandemic to fixing the state by changing the government? I am worried I sound like Pani Perchik.

-Another piece on Fiddler of the Roof: Fence on The Roof- 50 Years Since Fiddler

Fence on The Roof- 50 Years Since Fiddler

It has been 50 years since the production the Fiddler on the Roof. Til this day it stands as a unique artistic phenomena  explaining the old world Jew to the contemporary American audience. In her great article on the subject Professor Ruth R. Wisse brilliantly explores some of the challenges presented in the theatrical and film adaptations of Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. Like others Professor Wisse thinks they went too far in rewriting  Tevye to make him more accommodating  to the new world. While this might be true, the idea of adaptation itself was part and parcel of the original conception of the character of Tevye. How will the simple old world Jew make his way in the emerging complex new world?

These issues are themselves explored in renaming the work as the Fiddler on the Roof. The title stems from  Marc Chagall surreal paintings of Eastern European Jewish life which often including a fiddler.

   

In the play Tevye says:

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!

The Fiddler is a metaphor for survival, through tradition and joyousness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance. While life beyond Anatevka might be much more pleasant and simple, it seems that here America in relative security we are struggling to keep our tradition.

I remember when I was little I was climbing on the roof of the garage. My mother came yelling,”If you fall off there and break your leg I will smack you”. I was thinking about this and Dr. Wisse’s great article when reading Ki Tetzei , this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

When you build a new house, make a fence around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. (Deuteronomy 22:8

Obviously their architecture was different at that time and they actually used their roofs, but still I have to ask, who would be stupid enough to go on a roof? Well, the Torah wanted us to take precautions even for the person who might end up on the roof. How might we preserve this sacred balance as we try to maintain our tradition in the 21st century?

This makes me reflect on the first teaching in the Perkey Avot. There we learn, ” Be cautious in judgment. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.” ( Avot 1:1) If we are “cautious in judgment”  and work in the service of universal justice and not just “what is good for the Jews”, we will not have to worry about continuity. Simply put we will have “many pupils”. When we have many pupils will have many different interpretations. While this is exciting it might ultimately erode our sense of having one community to marshal a more just world. To this ends we need to build a fence. I realize that everyone will have different notions of what these limits are, but we can all agree we need them. With theses fences in place each of us needs to find our own way to become that Fiddler on the Roof.


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