Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 24, 2005
Last week, Art, the girls and I attended a sold-out production of "Fiddler on the Roof" at McCain Auditorium. The story is based on Russian author Sholom Aleichem's short story, "Tevye and His Daughters." Tevye, a milkman from a small village in Russia, believes the only thing that keeps a man from being as shaky in life as a fiddler on a roof is to trust in God and use the traditions of his culture as a guide. But his five daughters, three of whom are of marrying age, see some traditions as little more than obstacles when they begin romances with different suitors.
I had seen the movie version many years ago, but had never been to a stage production of the musical. I was looking forward to seeing it and hearing some of my favorite songs, including "Tradition," "Sunrise, Sunset," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "If I Were a Rich Man."
Although I felt I would most likely enjoy the production, I wasn't sure whether Art would. Not a fan of musicals, he has often told me he'd rather have people either speak the parts or line up to sing, but not combine the two.
But I needn't have worried about his reaction because several days before the show, he researched the author and the customs of the Russian Jews. When he found out that the original short story was written in Yiddish, he began pursuing information on that language. He told me several words we use - klutz - a clumsy person, schnoz - the nose, and kibbitz - unsolicited comments on a game or some other activity - most likely came from Yiddish.
That made me curious enough to do my own research. According to the Wikipedia Web site, most of the words have either Hebrew or German origins, but most likely entered the English language via their Yiddish forms. Some of the more common Yiddish words I've used or have heard others use, besides the ones Art told me, are:
bagel - a hard, ring-shaped roll
mazel tov - congratulations
mishmash - hodgepodge
schmo - a stupid person
shmooze - to socialize
schmuck - an unpleasant person
spiel - lengthy talk
While the play deals with the poverty and persecution of Jews in 1905 Czarist Russia and the sadness of seeing children leave home, it's certainly not all seriousness. There is a lot of light-hearted banter between the men and women, a hilarious dream sequence involving Tevye's late mother-in-law and joyous Jewish Sabbath and wedding celebrations.
In fact, the words from "Sunrise, Sunset" could be used to describe the play. It is about "one season following another, laden with happiness and tears."
After the show, I was anxious to hear Art's and the girls' opinions about it. Katie liked the song, "Tradition." That struck me funny as she always describes herself as a traditionalist. Mariya mused that she might have "Sunrise, Sunset" at her wedding someday.
But Art's comment probably summed up what we all thought of "Fiddler on the Roof."
"It was very well done," he said. What a succinct review from a man who likes to kibbitz on any and all topics, whether solicited or not!
"Mazel tov" to the performers and to McCain Auditorium for bringing such a fine show to town!