Three things I learned from watching "Fiddler on the Roof"

Fiddler on the Roof is my favourite musical. The characters feel so alive that they could be family members, the story is interesting, and most importantly, the songs are catchy. The Fiddler on the Roof movie from 1971 was directed by Norman Jewison, but was based on a live, Broadway performance from 1964 and stories written by Sholem Aleichem. It follows the story of a Jewish family living in Anatevka, a small Ukrainian town at the turn of the twentieth century. Tevye is a poor, hard-working milkman and lives with his wife, Golde, and their five daughters. Three of his eldest daughters, Tzeital, Hodel and Chava, are older teenagers and have almost reached the age where they are expected to marry. Throughout the movie, Tevye struggles to accept how each of his daughters question or challenge traditions by marrying the men they love. Fiddler on the Roof is interspersed with humor and sorrow. It provides a profound commentary on the essence of the human condition, what it means to be part of a family and the position of tradition within a world that was changing quickly. These three ideas are things I’ve learned from watching this movie more times than I can count.

1. Your dreams and aspirations are worth fighting for

Tevye arranged for his eldest daughter, Tzeital, to marry an older but wealthy butcher in Anatevka called Lazar Wolf. But Tzeital has her heart set on marrying her childhood sweetheart, a shy but kind tailor named Motel. Tzeital and Motel beg Tevye to let them get married. They are determined to be spend their lives together, and they do not give up when Tevye initially calls them crazy. Tevye eventually gives them his permission to marry, and they are overjoyed. Taken literally, this is about being determined to be with the one you love. But I think it can be so much more than that. Tzeital speaks up for what she wants; she tells her father that she cannot and will not marry Lazar even though she knows that she is going against his wishes. Her actions highlight the importance of speaking up for what you want and recognizing the validity of your dreams. 

2. Sometimes you just have to go for it

Tzeital’s younger sister, Hodel, is a rebel in her own right too. She falls in love with Perchik, a handsome but radical student from Kiev who believes in equality and worker’s rights. Hodel and Perchik break with tradition by refusing to ask for Tevye’s permission to marry. Instead, they announce that they will get married whether he approves or not, but would prefer to have his blessing. In the end, Tevye agrees to the match because he likes Perchik and knows that Hodel loves him. However, Hodel’s refusal to ask for her father’s permission to marry demonstrates the importance of just going for things sometimes, believing in yourself and trusting that you do not need anyone’s approval if you know in your heart that you are doing the right thing. 

3. Anger doesn’t always last forever (even when it seems like it might)

By the end of Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye’s youngest daughter, Chava, is the right age to marry. There’s just one problem—she has fallen in love with a young Russian Orthodox man named Fyedka. Chava marries Fyedka against her father’s wishes. Tevye is furious with his daughter for marrying a man who is not Jewish, and banishes her from their family. However, all is not lost. Tevye, his family, and all their neighbours are forced to leave their village by government officials. Chava and Fyedka come by the house to bid farewell one last time, but Tevye will not speak to his daughter or her husband. As she leaves, he finally mutters “God be with you,” as a signal to welcome her back into the family. It initially seemed as though Tevye would never forgive his youngest daughter. But he did, and showed that anger doesn’t necessarily last forever. Tevye’s forgiveness of his loving daughter also highlights the importance of forgiving and cherishing one’s family.