Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Fiddler on the Steeple

My friend Jenny sends her fifth-grade son to a local Seventh Day Adventist school
in Minnetonka. Jenny being Jenny, she has thrown herself into the school and its
activities full force, and this year she directed the school's annual musical.
Performances were last weekend. This year's production: Fiddler on the Roof.

For a while Jenny was calling me with all sorts of questions about Jewish law and
traditions and eventually I just gave her a copy of Life is With People, a good
book about the culture of the shtetl. Fiddler on the Roof is an ambitious
undertaking for a school with 250 people total in all 12 grades, but the kids worked
very hard and the singing, in particular, was quite strong. Live theater is live
theater, and even if the Russian soldiers are played by elementary school kids with
painted-on mustaches and the high-school hunks carrying the chuppah are wearing their
hats at a jaunty angle, it is still a legitimately moving moment when the villagers
must leave Anatevka and Tevye acknowledges his daughter who married a goy. The boy
who played Tevye inhabited his role with an enthusiasm that never crossed over into
shtick, and he was an excellent singer with a very good ear.

Talented as the kid was in terms of the conviction with which he attacked his part,
there was something that I just couldn't let go of: The kid had red-gold hair (greyed
up for the part) and features you probably wouldn't see on a shtetl. (Yes there are
many pale blond Jews, but none who look like this, and none with that particular hue
of strawberry blonde.) In fact, a large proportion of the villagers looked quite
Lutheran, in their square-jawed fairness. Tzeitel was played by a tall, lovely girl,
and when she appeared in an old-fashioned white lace dress for her wedding scene you
had to gasp at her youthful beauty. With her golden curls hanging down her back, she
was a vision of a goyishe princess! Perhaps the fact that her wedding (chuppah-
bearers, glass-breaking and all) was performed on the altar of an actual church
(where the performance took place) is what resulted in this vision.

Ok, all the actors were not blond -- there is a Hispanic family of talented kids
attending the school, who all had featured parts. But there was an interesting sense
of disjointedness to the experience.

I know I'm not being fair at all here. There is a great deal of suspension of disbelief
that comes along with watching kids playing adult roles, no matter the circumstances.
And as I say, these kids did very well by the material. Still, yesterday I went off to
church to watch a bunch of Minnesota Seventh-Day Adventists depict a romanticized
version of my own grandfather's life story. It was something to ponder.
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