To Life

I saw Fiddler On The Roof a few nights ago at the National Theatre in DC, 3 blocks from the White House. I hadn’t seen it in more than 20 years, yet I knew all the songs. What I did not remember, and this took me by surprise, is how powerful the story is.

The plot revolves around a small town in Russia and a Jewish family in the early 1900s. Much of the play uses humor to make its points but there are sad moments too; some of them are very emotional. The themes include aging, family, politics, religious persecution and generational challenges to traditions. In other words, the story is timeless.

It amazes me that ‘arranged marriages’ were (and maybe still are) common in some cultures. Parents picked the spouses of their children. In one touching scene, Tevya and Golde, the main parents in Fiddler, point out that they first met each other on their wedding day. There was never any question that this is how things were done, but in this scene, as they look back over 25 years of marriage, one asks the other “Do you love me?” They ask it in song, but it is still a powerful scene. It was a question they never thought to ask until the first three of their five daughters break tradition and choose their own husbands.

The famous songs you might know from Fiddler include “If I Were A Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Tradition!” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,”and “Do You Love Me.” But one that speaks to me (ok, sings to me) more than the rest includes these lines:

Here's to our prosperity, our good health and happiness, and most important ...
To life, to life, la kayim,
La kayim, la kayim, to life,
Be happy, be healthy, long life!
And if our good fortune never comes,
Here's to whatever comes,
Drink la kayim, to life!