Fiddler on the Roof

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Tevye - A Symbol of Our Past


          Tevye and the play “Fiddler on the Roof” is an authentic glimpse into our past and who we are today. It reviews the warmth, the caring of the typical Jewish family as it was and the love and caring, the warmth of the committed parents for their children and for each other.  When Tevye, father of five daughters, is concerned about the love that his wife has for him he asks her.  She answers in a matter of fact fashion, reviewing all the tasks that she performs for him as symbolic of her affection.  Without verbalizing his affection for her, he demonstrates it by his sacrifices, peddling milk to feed his wife and children.  He peddles milk and works from dawn to dusk to ascertain that his family will not go hungry.  His is a no frill existence, with each child having a feeling of belonging and appreciation.  The story of  “Fiddler” takes us back to the celebration of the Schabbat with its holiness, transforming the work week into beauty with the lighting of the candles and their glow spreading throughout the house and into our very being.  We can almost smell the chicken soup and the fresh Challahs and hear the Zemiros as the family sings and stands around its humble table with its starched white table cloth.

          In spite of the beauty and caring of the Jewish family, the hatred of the Russian population against the scapegoats, the few Jewish people that live among them, impel these barbarians to loot the Jewish population, destroy their meager homes, physically assault the inhabitants, and force them to escape to face a new life in a strange country.  The remnants of the escapees pack up their few remaining possessions and prepare to find refuge and peace!

          The story exhibits some of the tragedies that occurred then and reoccur during tumultuous times.  One of Tevye’s daughters runs away with a gentile male with whom she has fallen in love.  She remains behind while her parents are mourning for her.  They in essence lose one of their children.  With a heavy heart, the father will not speak to her but the mother yearns for her child.  She quietly wishes her the best, bids her farewell at their departure.  Although she will probably never see her again, this is her child and she cannot deny her existence.  You can feel the heaviness in each of their hearts, their very souls, as they leave their “lost” daughter and their homeland.  They depart with a few bundles of clothing, their four other children, their only son-in-law, a tailor, and their new grandson.  They leave for the great unknown to America but still have faith that they will survive.

          Much that we see and with which we can identify is still true today.  We are not always unlike the Fiddler on the Roof.  We are concerned as Jews about our acceptance, our security, our place in this world.  Survival is at a premium.  Like the “prodigal” daughter of Tevye, we have lost many of our children through intermarriage.  Our numbers have shrunk.  Six million of our brethren were annihilated during the Holocaust.  Because of Hitler and his Nazis, we underestimate and reject ourselves and each other.  Because they have labeled us vermin, we are beginning to take on their hatred and consider leaving our religion, have thrown away the beauty of the Sabbath, our customs, our very identity.  Self hatred is the order of the day.  We have become our own worst enemies. We despise the perpetrators, but most of all we despise the victims, namely ourselves.

          Let us not forget the erstwhile morality and stability of the Jewish family, the beauty and holiness of the Sabbath, the closeness and security of coherence, the good feeling that comes with caring, and embrace who we are as a people:  The people who studied Torah, who knew and know right from wrong, the people who are ethical, who are clear thinkers not anesthetized by alcohol.  We are said to have been “the Chosen”.  Chosen for gas ovens, for anti-semitism by Nazis, by ignorant bigots and other hateful riffraff.

          We must be vigilant against those who wish to destroy us, fight our negative self images, and be strong in the face of those who wish us ill. Let us continue to be “the people of the book”.  Let us identify with the greats among us, the Einsteins, the Salks, the healers and inventors. Let us unite with one another, with our fellow men, and recognize our beautiful historic religion as the descendants of Rachel, Rebecca, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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