How “Fiddler on the Roof” Came to Israel in Yiddish

This summer, a Yiddish-language production of Fiddler on the Roof—itself an adaptation of the Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem’s series of stories about Tevye the Milkman—will debut in New York. Alisa Solomon tells the improbable story of the first time the musical was rendered into Yiddish:

The production was the brainchild of Giora Godik, the flamboyant, Polish-born impresario famous for bringing lavish American-style musicals to the Israeli stage. He had presided over the first foreign production of Fiddler, presented in Hebrew at the grand Alhambra Theater in Jaffa, which he refurbished after it had stood derelict for two decades, damaged in a 1947 mortar bombardment.

The Hebrew-language production met with tremendously popular success, running for fifteen months and seen, producers estimated, by a full quarter of Israel’s population. Kanar al ha-Gag opened in 1965 with the comic actor Bomba Tzur in the role of Tevye, though Tzur was replaced after about six months by Shmuel Rodensky, a sensitive and nuanced multilingual actor who’d been born in Vilna.

Godik, whose father had been an actor in the Polish theater, saw that Rodensky’s Yiddish abilities presented an opportunity to build on the Jewish Israeli public’s surprising enthusiasm for Fiddler—and also to sell more tickets. Shraga Friedman prepared quickly a brilliant translation of Fiddler into Yiddish (working in part from Dan Almagor’s Hebrew version). Among many glorious touches, Friedman evokes other Sholem Aleichem works.

For one delicious example, he begins [the song] “If I Were a Rich Man” with “If I were a Rothschild,” the title and theme of [Sholem Aleichem’s] short story about a shtetl Jew who can’t scrape together enough money for the Sabbath imagining how charitable he would be if he had the fortunes of the financier. And for another, Friedman turns the argument in the middle of the song “Tradition” over whether one Anatevka resident sold a horse or a mule to his neighbor into whether it was a billy goat or a she-goat—the issue at the heart of Sholem Aleichem’s short story “The Enchanted Tailor.”

Read more at Forward

More about: Arts & Culture, Fiddler on the Roof, Israeli culture, Sholem Aleichem, Yiddish literature, Yiddish theater


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy