By JANE SIMONS, Special Contributor | Published March 4, 2004
One of the great American musicals is coming to the Cathedral of Christ the King. “Fiddler on the Roof,” CTK Theater Ministry’s newest production, will be brought to the stage… with a little help from our Jewish neighbors.
“Fiddler,” based on stories by Sholom Aleichem by special permission of Arnold Perl, was created for the New York stage with book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. The original Broadway production was produced by Harold Prince and directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The story is set in the small village of Anatevka, Russia, in 1905. It revolves around the efforts of Tevye, a poor dairyman, his wife Golde and their five daughters as they cope with their harsh existence under Tzarist rule in an atmosphere of growing anti-Semitism.
Tevye explains the role of God’s law in providing balance in the villagers’ lives by describing the inner circle of their community and the larger circle, which includes their Russian neighbors such as the constable, the priest and other authority figures. He says that without their traditions, he and the other villagers would find their lives “as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”
Lending authenticity to the Jewish traditions and beliefs of the early 20th century that will be portrayed in the production, Holli Levinson, program director at the Lisa F. Brill Institute of Jewish Learning (part of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, www.atlantajcc.org), spent a Saturday answering questions from the cast and crew. The questions ranged from “Why couldn’t Jewish boys and girls dance together?” to “Why do men wear prayer shawls in synagogue?” Levinson explained that Jewish tradition is part religious law and part custom with a dose of superstition thrown in for good measure. Orthodox Jews adhere strictly to the legal interpretation of the Torah (roughly, the first 5 books of the Bible), while more modern Jews might not keep kosher kitchens or require male facial hair and beards. Yiddish, a combination of Hebrew and German, was the language spoken by the Jews in the Russia of 1905 and is still spoken widely today. One scene in “Fiddler” centers around the Friday evening Shabbat, or Sabbath meal, and the cast learned that the meal would have been prepared before sundown, as no work was allowed during the Sabbath which is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The lighting of two candles is part of the ritual reminding Jews to keep the Sabbath holy—not unlike the candles lit on the altar for Mass. Braided bread called challah is broken and served, and a cup of wine is passed, reminiscent of the eucharistic feast. Levinson’s enlightening presentation illuminated how much the Jewish and Catholic religions have in common and how we share many of the same traditions and values.
“Fiddler on the Roof” is the third show produced by the CTK Theater Ministry, following past productions of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “The Sound of Music.” Through these productions, the CTK Theater Ministry seeks to build relationships of service and camaraderie within the parish. This effort underscores the fact that ministry should be at the heart of all we do while using time and talents to produce a high quality theater production. Our Jewish friends have joined in that ministry by teaching us the meaning of some of their traditions, from which a lot of Catholic traditions have sprung.
All proceeds from the production benefit the Buckhead Christian Ministries, an ecumenical organization that coordinates with 26 churches in the Atlanta area and provides service to the needy regardless of religious affiliation. In 2003, almost three thousand households were helped by the BCM with everything from emergency service to housing assistance. Volunteers operate the food pantry and thrift store. The BCM partners with the Jewish Family and Career Services on programs to help find homes and jobs for those in need, providing another opportunity for groups to work together to solve common problems.
The musical will be performed March 25-27 at 8 p.m. and March 28 at 2 p.m. in the Hyland Center gymnasium, located at the Cathedral of Christ the King, 2699 Peachtree Road, NE. Tickets are $10 per adult and $5 per child under 10 years old and can be obtained by mailing in a ticket form. Ticket forms are available at the church reception desk or from the theater ministry Web site. Follow the “Fiddler” link on the Cathedral Web page at www.christtheking-atl.org. Tickets will also be on sale after all Masses the first three weekends in March or can be purchased through any cast or crew member. For further information, call the theater ministry voice mailbox at (404) 233-2145, ext. 648.