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Shendel, Shendel, where are you running?

Apr 15, 2007
Kimmy Sophia Brown
Last night we watched “Fiddler on the Roof”, on dvd. Almost from the opening shot I found myself trying to blink back tears hoping no one in the room noticed me - partly because nothing in the drama had happened yet to provoke tears and also because I was embarrassed because I didn’t really know why I was crying. I just was. There was something about seeing the character of Tevye, a man probably in his 50s, going about his day as a milkman in his little village in Russia, that touched me. Something about perspective.

I first encountered the play, “Fiddler on the Roof”, between my junior and senior year in high school. The two high schools in my hometown, Framingham North and Framingham South high schools, joined in a united effort to produce the musical. I was a “Mama”. So in the opening song, “Tradition” I was in the “Mama” chorus. I wore a long skirt, a head scarf and I think I wielded a broom. My best friend, Genevieve, was a “daughter”.

One of the benefits of bringing the two high schools together was that friendships were formed that might never have been otherwise. One person I met in particular was my good friend, Nancy Oliver, who has gone on to become a successful writer in L.A.. We sometimes still email each other after 30 years. The zenith of my acting career occurred in that play when I rushed out onto the stage and said breathlessly; “Shendel! Shendel! Where are you running?” And Nancy, who played the role of Shendel, the mother of Motel Kamzoil, said in return, “To my boy Motel’s. There’s a new arrival there!”

We often greeted each other with those lines long after the play was closed and forgotten. While I was watching the movie last night I was amazed at how many lines I remembered throughout the whole production; the songs, the dance steps and scene sequences. Of course, at the time when I was in the play, I was 16 or 17 and very much a “daughter” even though I was cast as a “mama”. The song, “Do you love me?”, and the lines; “For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, etc” had no real meaning for me except for the curiosity of what it might mean to actually live that long with someone. I heard it very differently with last night’s viewing, now that I am a wife in my 50s after 25 years of marriage. (And I love him by the way.)

I found myself crying in many places throughout the movie, probably mostly over what a great guy Tevye is. He’s relaxed. He can dance in his barn and shake his upper body almost like a “shimmie with my sister Kate” (and still look good.) He knows how to party. He loves God and talks to him like a drinking buddy. He cares deeply about the feelings of his daughters. He knows his wife’s personality quirks well enough to use her religious convictions and gift for dream interpretation to break Tzeitel’s promised marriage with Laser Wolf and seal the marriage with her heart’s intended, Motel Kamzoil, and make it seem like it was all Goldie’s idea. He gets along fine with the Russian law enforcement. Even when he tries to harden his heart against a daughter who seems to be betraying everything he believes in he can’t force his heart to remain cold toward her.

So I ask myself rhetorically after all these years; Shendel, Shendel where are you running? I hope I’m running to a place where I might become somebody like Tevye. A person who reacts with fairness to everyone he meets (or on the other hand!), one who tries to pick up the pieces cheerfully when things go wrong. Someone who peppers their faith with humor. Like when Perchik says; “Money is the world's curse.” and Tevye says; “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover!"

My husband’s friend, Mark, said that he thinks the Fiddler represents God - always there to comfort and encourage when things are hard. Even in the midst of difficulties Tevye finds time to dance after the Fiddler and doesn’t lose heart. How encouraging that kind of person must be to God.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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