The Director and Choreographer of “Fiddler on the Roof,” and His Ambivalent Jewish Identity

Oct. 29 2019

During his long career, Jerome Robbins distinguished himself as one of America’s foremost choreographers for both classical ballet and Broadway musicals. For most of it, he tried to hide three facts of which he was ashamed: that he had “named names” to the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1953, that he was a homosexual, and that he was Jewish. Robbins’s best known work, however, might be the quintessentially Jewish Fiddler on the Roof, which—like several other plays—he directed as well as choreographed. Terry Teachout writes:

If anything, Robbins had even more equivocal feelings about his Jewishness [than about his sexuality]. Born Gershon Wilson Rabinowitz in 1918, he was the son of a Russian émigré who spoke with a heavy accent and wanted the boy to follow him into the family business (Harry Rabinowitz was a corset manufacturer). Longing for acceptance by his WASP peers, Robbins was ashamed of the fact that his father, for all his assimilationist aspirations, was still as unmistakably Jewish as the people of the shtetl in which he had grown up.

Robbins’s self-hatred grew more pronounced when he joined Ballet Theatre. . . . “The feeling of being a fake (Jewish),” he recalled in 1976, “prevented me from ever achieving the relaxed gentlemanly attitude.” Instead, he decided to make ballets of his own in which he could shake off “that fake ‘niceness’ I disliked about ballet” and be himself—or, rather, a heterosexual, non-Jewish version of himself.

And while he went out of his way to steer clear of explicitly Jewish subject matter in his dances, he found it difficult to ignore his Jewishness, thus planting a seed that in time would bear astonishingly profitable fruit. [He] managed to come to terms with his Jewishness by making Fiddler on the Roof, a musical that seeks to fuse a sentimentalized but nonetheless artistically serious portrayal of shtetl life and customs with the assimilationist dream of Jewish acceptance into American culture that would be central to Robbins’s own creative life. Significantly, he stopped working on Broadway after Fiddler, thereafter devoting the bulk of his creative energies to the making of ballets.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewry, Broadway, Dance, Fiddler on the Roof

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship