Fiddler on the Roof of My Life
This past week I watched “Fiddler on the Roof” on Turner Classic Movies TV channel.
It starred Chaim Topol as Tevye the Russian milkman with five daughters. It’s set in 1905 Tsarist Russia where marriages were still arranged in the Jewish faith by a matchmaker.
Tevye attempts to marry off three of his daughters, who are all strong minded and want to make their own marriage choices, the youngest driving a wedge between herself and her father because she wants to marry a non-Jew.
This all brings me back to my own years of growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in University Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.
It was ingrained in me at a very early age that I must stay in the faith for boyfriends and my eventual wedding day getting married.
My first boyfriend, Richie Cohen was pretty much the only one that would have qualified. Keep in mind I was 16 at the time and was sure I knew everything in the ways of the world.
On one of my trips home to Cleveland over the past 10 years with Herman, I found out from mutual friends Who we all went to school with, that Richie had risen to the height of his profession as a used car salesman.
What really struck me about “Fiddler,” as we commonly referred to it in the Girls Glee Club and Men’s Chorus, known to us as GGCMC, was how much the songs reminded me of my own family.
Each year at Thanksgiving, my Uncle Erry, Aunt Ruth, Aunt Miriam and Uncle Bernie with their respective spouses and children would converge on the house at 2330 Traymore Road in University Heights. My mom and dad would have six or seven rented tables set up in the living room and dining room. I remember the joyous laughter and talking in Yiddish, German and English.
My mom and her siblings were born in Dresden in Germany. I have photographs of my mom and her siblings as kids walking through the streets of Germany and to this day my mom speaks German to whomever she can, although all but one of her siblings have passed away. Aunt Eva lives in Israel so I don’t get to see her.
Tevye’s large family with five daughters makes me think of my mom’s family with six siblings. Just as Tevye’s five daughters all seem to get along fine, I always saw my mother and all my aunts and uncles get along fine. They used to dance a dance called the “Yehudie.” As my mom puts it, “We did more laughing than dancing.”
Just as Tevye’s family had to flee the Tsarist pogroms, my mom and her family had to flee the Nazis. But in spite of it all, they danced and sang.
The song that most describes their verve in spite of their circumstances is “L’Chaim,” or “To Life,” which is also Topol’s real first name.
It is the symbol of the movie, my family’s flight from Nazi Germany and that same spirit has been passed on to me. I always try to rise above my circumstances and say,” To Life!”
Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues free lance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site www.kathrynskorner.com