“A Fiddler on the Roof? Dad- that’s absolutely crazy!” I was in second grade and my parents discovered that my friend and I had never been exposed to Fiddler on the Roof. As this was considered a crime to my history aficionado father, movie night was quickly arranged.
I thought it was crazy until the first number was over. Then, I sat entranced by the humor and heartbreak, the traditions and the transformations. I loved the tale and sang “Matchmaker” and “Tradition” drowsily all the way home, even though I did not yet fully understood its significance.
Only now, through working on the show have I fully begun to understand what it means. The people I have spoken to recently have opened the door for me to the people Tevye embodied.
Saturday night of How the Grinch Stole Christmas’s opening weekend, a party was thrown for everyone who had been involved. When I told the director that I was working on Fiddler on the Roof, he launched into the tale of his grandfather (or great-grandfather), who had moved from the Pale region of Russia fearing the persecution of the Czar, and arrived like so many others on Ellis Island. Today, his grandson (or great-grandson) is a director on Broadway.
I mentioned Fiddler at a youth group meeting. I received the story of how the great-grandfather and mother of one of my friends fled, like Tevye and his family, from the Cossacks and their pogroms to come to the United States, where they could practice any religion they chose without fear or shame.
My mother told me that our family was safely here, but sponsored another family’s migration from persecution in Eastern Europe to the United States.
And thus, I connected. Fiddler became not just a story or my friend’s story, but my story. Our story.
In rehearsal we worked the migration at the end of the show, and did an exercise where the cast thought about what it would have been like to leave everything we had ever known, everyone we had ever loved, the place where we, and generations before us, had grown up and made our home. We talked about tradition and how when it changes, we change. We talked about how our identity is shaped by what we believe and what we do. And we talked about leaving all that behind.
After the exercise, we ran the exodus one more time, and tears streamed down the faces of some of the actors. They realized, like me, what this show meant.
Fiddler is not just a story about history, about Jews, about Russians, or pogroms. It is about defining who we are in changing world, whether that is because of oppression or choice.
That’s a question the entire world has been trying to answer, though perhaps best voiced by a character from Les Miserables “Who am I?” It is the question the UN tries to decide when it deals with the Israel-Palestine conflict, ISIS, Syria, the South China Sea debate, migrants, and the Iran deal. It is the question the US is trying to answer in the 2016 election. It is the question we try to answer in our jobs, our school, our social life. And it is the question of a loving family and a poor dairy farmer.
Gabrielle Bray is the Assistant Director of Fiddler on the Roof and is a freshman at White Station High School. She has been involved in theatre for four years, thanks to her two lovely sisters dragging her into it. Outside of theatre, she rides horses, competes in MUN and Science Olympiad, volunteers at a vet's office, and reads.