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Fiddler on the Roof

July 15th, 2008 by Alex Kruglov Content Acquisition

Fiddler on the Roof is one of those movies that just happens to have extraordinary meaning in my life. The first time I saw the play Tevye the Milkman was in Kiev, Ukraine, at the age of nine. My family, like most other Jews in the Soviet Union, had the full writings of Sholem Aleichem on its bookshelf, and I grew up a big fan of the legendary Yiddish writer’s work.

My family came to the US as refugees in ’91, right around the fall of the Soviet Union. The first film I remember seeing was Norman Jewison’s Fiddler on the Roof. Based on the wildly successful musical, which in turn is based on Aleichem’s short stories about Tevye the Milkman, Fiddler on the Roof tells the universally relatable story about the milkman Tevye (played brilliantly by Oscar-nominated Topol) struggling to raise his five beautiful daughters and to understand God’s will for his “chosen people.”

Each of Tevye’s three oldest daughters follows a path he hadn’t quite envisioned. The oldest, Tzeitel, is in love with the poor tailor Motel. Hodel falls in love with the communist Perchik who’s sent to a labor camp in Siberia. Worse yet, Chava falls in love with the Ukrainian peasant Fyedka. In the background, the treatment of Russian Jewry is getting worse and worse, and the village Constable is having a difficult time protecting his Jewish friends. On top of all this, Tevye is barely making ends meet.

Despite the difficulties Tevye faces, he keeps a truly strong spirit and an infectious sense of humor. In one hilarious scene, Tevye and the butcher Lazar argue about Tzeitel, with Tevye thinking the entire time that he’s discussing his prized milking cow. More than that, Fiddler on the Roof features truly memorable musical numbers for which it was awarded an Oscar. Two songs in particular, “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” have become a part of pop culture. The former was most recently sampled by Gwen Stefani, and the latter is often the father-daughter dance in weddings.

So, back to extraordinary meaning in my life. I first saw the play in Kiev as a kid, the film in the US as my first Hollywood movie, and, finally, the musical on Broadway in New York (starring Harvey Fierstein as Tevye) as the first outing with my future mother-in-law. Fiddler on the Roof has taught me valuable life lessons — new ones each time I watch it — while at the same time cracking me up and (embarrassingly) inspiring me to sing out loud. I very much hope you enjoy the film as much as I do.

(Not-quite) Anatevka refugee, ( alex.kruglov@hulu.com),

Last comment: Jul 16th 2008 2 Comments