Like a Fiddler on the Roof

June 25, 2024

Written by Elizabeth Mason Givens

Why would a Garden Spot Village resident in his later 70s, who has never been in a stage production opt to try out for the part of the Rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof with Servant Stage? Lots of reasons ranging from liking a new challenge to being a great fan of Servant Stage. But probably the biggest is that Fiddler on the Roof is part of the Givens family DNA.

Maybe it is because I grew up in a very Jewish community outside Philadelphia, where Yiddish was a freely spoken and Auschwitz tattoos on the wrists of older adults were a constant reminder of the cost of being Jewish. Maybe it was the study trips to Israel early in our lives. Maybe it was the music that seemed to so resonate in our home that snatches of songs were common – opening a hand of cards and singing Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match, or our girls humming Anatevka whenever I asked them to put all their LEGO away, or my husband David leaning over to me and singing Do you love me?

The first stage performance we saw of Fiddler was an all-Filipino cast in Manila over 40 years ago. I was afraid it wouldn’t be good, but quickly realized that the themes of love, loss, and tradition are universal to any culture. Another time we flew from Newark to Detroit with the 30th anniversary cast of Fiddler and our girls had already bought us tickets for our anniversary gift.

Whatever the reasons for our love relationship with Fiddler, when we heard Servant Stage was planning to do it, we were delighted. About February I took a picture of David across the table at a restaurant and he said, “I look like a rabbi.” So, it began. He auditioned in March, terrified despite years of public speaking and teaching, and was both surprised and delighted when he got an invitation to play the Rabbi.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, the Fiddler trying to balance on a rooftop is the spirit of the precarious life of being Jewish. The Rabbi doesn’t say a lot, but in any good Jewish shtetl, the Rabbi is an opinion on many issues, and is honored and respected.

Rehearsals started in April and it was rigorous. David came home the first night saying, “I won’t say this again but I may have bitten off more than I can chew.” But Servant Stage is a company of encouragers and as time went on, he relished the cast relationships as much as the show. When a younger cast member told David he was doing a great job with the “old-man-walk” David told him it just came naturally! Rigorous, yes, — 19 performances — but oh, so rewarding.

The last night several of the younger cast members came to say, “You REALLY were our Rabbi. You were there for us all the time.” A Jewish childhood buddy of mine in Tel Aviv wrote, “But now that you’ve abdicated your rabbinical duties, to whom will I turn for spiritual advice?” I wrote back, “He shed the costume and cut the hair and beard, but he never had to ‘play’ the role because spiritual mentor is who he’s always been.”

Photo by Myron Slabaugh.

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