The History, Enduring Appeal, and Lost Songs of “Fiddler on the Roof”

When Fiddler on the Roof premiered on Broadway in 1964, Irving Howe panned it in Commentary, referring to Anatevka as “the cutest shtetl we’ve never had.” Philip Roth characterized it as “shtetl kitsch.” And behind the scenes, as Saul Jay Singer writes, there was a good deal of turmoil—Marc Chagall refused to design the set; the lead actor, Zero Mostel, repeatedly clashed with the director Jerome Robbins. In tracing the play’s colorful history, Singer points to possible reasons behind its enduring popularity.

The original working title for the show was The Old Country, and other rejected titles include Tevye and Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away. It ultimately became Fiddler on the Roof based upon a painting by Marc Chagall. Jerome Robbins had met and admired Chagall for his renditions of his childhood ḥasidic community of Vitebsk, where dance and music stirred faithful devotion, themes which Robbins believed characterized the quintessence of Fiddler. Although Chagall declined an offer to design the set (he reportedly disliked the musical), it was nonetheless designed in his distinctive style and the play’s colorful logo was similarly inspired by the palette of Chagall’s paintings. . . .

Robbins went to great lengths to portray the characters and Jewish life in the shtetl with utmost authenticity, assigning various books about Jewish life in Eastern Europe to the cast as “homework.” . . . Robbins even went so far as to take the cast on trips to New York City to observe Orthodox weddings; Zero Mostel, who played Tevye and was often in conflict with Robbins, mockingly commented, “A couple of weddings in Williamsburg and that putz thinks he understands Orthodox Jews.”

As a very young child, Robbins’s parents took him to visit his widowed grandfather in [the shtetl of] Rozhanka, and he came to love his zeyde and the Yiddish songs he sang. When he detoured to Rozhanka years later, he learned that its entire Jewish population of some 120 families had been liquidated in the Holocaust, and he became inspired to bring the “Anatevka” of his childhood back to life on the Broadway stage as a way to celebrate the warmth of the now lost Jewish life he had experienced in the shtetl.

Read more at Jewish Press

More about: American Jewish History, East European Jewry, Fiddler on the Roof, Marc Chagall

Israel’s Friendship with Iraqi Kurds, and Why Iran Opposes It

In May 2022, the Iraqi parliament passed a law “criminalizing normalization and establishment of relations with the Zionist entity,” banning even public discussion of ending the country’s 76-year state of war with Israel. The bill was a response to a conference, held a few months prior, addressing just that subject. Although the gathering attracted members of various religious and ethnic groups, it is no coincidence, writes Suzan Quitaz, that it took place in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan:

Himdad Mustafa, an independent researcher based in Erbil, to whom the law would be applied, noted: “When 300 people gathered in Erbil calling for peace and normalization with Israel, the Iraqi government immediately passed a law criminalizing ties with Israel and Israelis. The law is clearly aimed at Kurds.” . . . Qais al-Khazali, secretary-general of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Coordination Framework), a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militia, slammed the conference as “disgraceful.”

Himdad explains that the criminalization of Israeli-Kurdish ties is primarily driven by “Kurd-phobia,” and that Kurd-hatred and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand.

One reason for that is the long history of cooperation Israel and the Kurds of Iraq; another is the conflict between the Kurdish local government and the Iran-backed militias who increasingly control the rest of the country. Quitaz elaborates:

Israel also maintains economic ties with Kurdistan, purchasing Kurdish oil despite objections from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. A report in the Financial Times discusses investments by many Israeli companies in energy, development sectors, and communications projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to providing security training and purchasing oil. Moreover, in a poll conducted in 2009 in Iraqi Kurdistan, 71 percent of Kurds supported normalization with Israel. The results are unsurprising since, historically, Israel has had cordial ties with the Kurds in a generally hostile region where Jews and Kurds have fought against the odds with the same Arab enemy in their struggles for a homeland.

The Iranian regime, through its proxies in the Iraqi government, is the most significant source of Kurd-phobia in Iraq and the driving factor fueling tensions. In addition to their explicit threat to Israel, Iranian officials frequently threaten the Kurdish region, and repeatedly accuse the Kurds of working with Israel.

Read more at Jersualem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Iraq, Israel-Arab relations, Kurds