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Tradition; All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Musicals

How will we look back on 2020? For many, it’ll be the year they lost someone dear to them without being able to say goodbye. It may have been the year you lost your job or your business. For those of us fortunate enough to not have as dramatic a narrative, I think we can all say things that we considered “traditions" were thrown off.

Have you seen Fiddler on the Roof? I can trace my love of musicals back to my childhood. In the early 80’s, my mom was approached by a neighbor who was cast in the chorus of her high school musical and needed to have a dress made. It was no secret that my mom loved to sew. When the show opened, my parents made their way to the high school auditorium to see their neighbor and of course the dress. They never missed a spring musical after that. It became a tradition in our home go to the high school for their annual musical and quite a few plays in the fall. When I was in fourth grade, I had a big project for Ohio History, which I kept putting off. When it came time to leave the house to see the musical (which happened to be Fiddler on the Roof), I was informed that I couldn’t attend because I hadn’t finished my homework. Ultimately, I went on to be the theatre director of that same school. When I directed Fiddler, I told my parents I’d be more prepared if they would have let me see it when I was a kid.

Something I learned when I directed this show was that it has a following. I got used to seeing my regulars buy tickets plus the family and friends of the cast. This show brought a whole group I’d never met or didn’t usually see in the audience. They weren’t necessarily Jewish families, though some were. They were just people who felt a connection to Tevye and his daughters. They were probably people like me whose parents took them to see musicals as a kid. And they weren't taking Ohio History at the time.

The show opens with a famous number where the Russian dairy farmer Tevye talks directly to the audience about the “traditions” of their small community of Jews in Anatevke. They have traditions for everything:

How to sleep

How to eat

How to work

How to wear clothes

Then the chorus enters and explains the roles of each member of the family and community. Take a listen:

Like Tevye, we have certain traditions. I thought of Tevye’s words in the context of living in suburbia:

How to sleep (Very comfortably in the life we’ve “built” for ourselves)

How to eat (Whatever we want. Or hurried, in the car on the way to one of the many activities our kids’ do)

How to work (All the time.)

How to wear clothes (Those that impress others without looking like we tried to impress them.)

Things begin to happen that challenge Tevye’s traditions. One of his five daughters asks to marry a man she loves instead of the match he secured for her. Demonstrations from the local government begin cropping up to let the Jews know their security is at risk. Word of pogroms in other communities reaches Anatevka. Everything Tevye held dear could be taken away.

It reminded me of this virus which put our suburban security and traditions at risk. No sports? School at home? A job loss. The loss of a family member. Traditions began to change.

We saw a shift in the traditional roles. Parents became teachers. People began working from home changing the division of labor. Some had to rely on others a little more for help.

Like Tevye, some of the changes were good. He mentions that he doesn’t know how these traditions started and we don’t either. When did we decide it was important to be busy every night of the week. When did we decide it was more important to make a lot of money than take the time for a regular game night or bike rides or puzzles? When Tevye’s daughter fell in love, he asks his wife of 25 years if she loves him -a conversation they’ve never had.

We evaluated our traditions too. It took taking everything away for us to decide which things we missed. We missed connection, but not busyness. We missed some activities, but not all the distractions. We missed going places, but not the feeling like we always had to go somewhere. I was at Meijer a few weeks ago and noticed certain shelves were bare. (No, not toilet paper. This was after that.) The shelves that were bare were where puzzles, sidewalk chalk, and bicycles used to be. It made me smile. I loved that families were using this time to do these simple, lovely things together.

Tevye didn’t let every tradition go. He kept his devotion to God and his faith. We didn’t let every tradition go either. We haven’t been to church since March 8th, but we have worshipped God. Streaming church and singing together in our living room is a new tradition we’ve come to love. We have new favorite recipes, parks, and games.

Sometimes God takes things away from us so we can see we don’t need them. Sometimes He takes things out of our reach to see if we’ll still pursue them. He allows these challenges so we can align our hearts with what He loves and helps us to see the rest as what they are -distractions.

As things start to speed up again, choose what things you plan to hold tight to and those that have no value.



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