“Fiddler on the Roof,” a Conservative Classic?

March 18 2019

Reviewing the National Yiddish Theater’s Yiddish-language production of the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof—itself based on Yiddish stories of Sholem Aleichem—Madeleine Kearns discerns a story with a deeply conservative message:

Conservatism necessarily involves compromise. That’s why it is such a precarious endeavor. You could say—as the dairyman Tevye does in Fiddler on the Roof—that it’s like a “fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck.” . . .

Joel Grey’s lively revival of this classic is a delight. Fortunately, non-Yiddish-speaking audience members (like me) can follow along with English and Russian surtitles projected on the side of the stage. Grey’s is a modest production. But it brims with character and humor while remaining faithful to the story’s message. . . .

Tevye’s compromise with his daughters [in Fiddler does] not change his view of marriage, but rather it has strengthened his views where they needed strengthening and refined them where they needed refining. Tevye and [his wife] Golde must also learn by their daughters’ example. Namely, that love benefits from affection, not just duty. From youthful spontaneity, not just reliability. Of course, the same is true for his daughters. They, too, must learn from the example set by their parents: love involves sacrifice, it isn’t always sentimental; it’s mostly about doing what’s right by the other person. . . .

[B]y the end of the show, an edict from the tsar will force the Jewish population into exile. As the Jews of Anatevka leave behind the home of their forefathers, they must seek out new places to plant roots. In doing so, both “tradition” and compromise will be essential. . . . The National Yiddish Theatre is doing justice to this timeless conservative show.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Conservatism, Fiddler on the Roof, Yiddish theater

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat