It was a rainy day in Seattle when I first saw him. I’d planned on reading that day, but my aunt’s dog had chewed up one of my favorite books and I was in a rather foul mood. So I turned on the TV and a man walking with a lame horse appeared on the screen. He was talking to me about his town of Anatevka and the traditions there. Soon I got to meet his wife Golda and his five daughters: Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Sphrintze and Bielke.
I watched the movie Fiddler on the Roof transfixed. I was ten, but I knew these people. I knew this man. I knew his connection to tradition, faith and family; his sufferings and hopes. I could relate to his thirst for knowledge and riches. The fact that he was Russian, Jewish, and poor meant nothing to me because on the most basic level–the human level–I could relate.
Tevye and his family taught me about life. Their story about grappling with identity and change was something I, a child of immigrants, could identify with. From early childhood I was told about the importance of our family name and listened to the many stories of my grandparents and their grandparents. I had a responsibility to keep the family name from shame. I know that to some this is a foreign concept, especially in America, which prides individuality over anything else. In Fiddler on the Roof I saw the daughters struggle with trying to deal with individual identity versus family identity, something I dealt with growing up and saw all around me especially among other immigrant families we knew. When I read the stories in Tevye the Dairyman and Tevye’s Daughters on which the movie is based, I was heartbroken by the stark realities of their lives (outright depressed sometimes).