I've been watching Fiddler on the Roof while folding laundry this week. The movie is nearly four hours and yes, I have that much laundry to fold.
I saw this musical as a stage production ages ago, when I was in middle school, and I have never forgotten the songs. Sunrise, Sunset, Tradition, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, If I Were a Rich Man were all firmly embedded in my memory after seeing one amateur high school stage performance.
I love musicals.
But after watching Fiddler, I was left with some questions.
- Why were all the Jews kicked out of their village in Tzarist Russia?
- What's a pogrom?
- How many Oscars was this film nominated for? And how many did it win?
- Did Topol ever star in anything else?
First, I went to my source of all knowledge, the Chef. He looked up "pogrom." It's a Russian word that loosely means attacks on Jews, riots, destruction of Jewish property, and killing of Jews. The Chef kept looking up anti-semitism, and I was frustrated that he wasn't finding out more about Tzarist Russia. Why did the Russians hate the Jews?
In Fiddler, the Rabbi says a blessing for the Tzar, "and keep him far away from us." So apparently, the Jews weren't enamored of the Tzar either. The Chef couldn't answer my questions and even intimated that the all-knowing internet didn't have an answer. Perhaps, it was such a tiny blip in history that it is not covered by Wikipedia. Perhaps, the Chef was tired and preoccupied and not really interested in my search for answers. "Forget it," I said, "I'll look it up myself."
Hollywood made at least two whole movies about the subject, Fiddler and I'm ashamed to say that I'm referring to the animated feature film, An American Tail, as the sum of my knowledge of Russian Jews and their plight in the late 1800s. I knew there must be more to this than Tevye and Fievel Mouskewitz have taught me.
So with a nursing babe, and two sickish kids at home, and piles of freshly folded laundry, I spent some time educating myself on Russian history via Wikipedia. If you would like to skip this history lesson, scroll down to the picture of bread.
First, there was Tzar Alexander II. Well, he wasn't the first, but he was in this story. He abolished serfdom, was doing good things for Russia, and was just about to reveal his plan for an elected parliament when he was assassinated by a terrorist group. This same group and other individuals had attempted to assassinate him unsuccessfully at least four other times. Regarding his marriage and personal life, he was an adulterer and had many children by many women.
His son, Alexander III and his grandson, Nicholas II (who would both eventually become Emperors) were present when he was killed. It was a very gruesome death. You can read all about it here.
|The assassination of Alexander II of Russia 1881|
Alexander III had been raised a little differently than other emperors. His older brother was supposed to become the Tzar, and no one expected him to get sick and die. When the older brother did die, suddenly Alexander III needed to be educated in "principles of law and administration."
Alexander III did not like the way his father had led the empire. One of the first things he did as Tzar was to rip up his father's plans for the elected parliament. He increased the government's control of the people, and drafted the May Laws which restricted the Jewish people, where they could live, when they could do business and more.
Regarding Alexander III's marriage and personal life, Alexander III married his deceased brother's fiancee, and to quote Wikipedia once again, "The union proved a most happy one and remained unclouded to the end. Unlike his father, there was no adultery in his marriage."
And you probably didn't know that one time, the Imperial train derailed and the roof of the royal dining car was caving in. Alex 3 used his super-human strength to hold up the roof until his children could escape. This act of heroism may have caused the kidney damage that ended his life.
Interestingly, sometimes good leaders are bad husbands and fathers and sometimes bad leaders are good husbands and fathers. And sometime one begets the other.
|Don't they look like a happy couple? Photographs can be so deceiving.|
Wikipedia also refers to the fact that there were rumors that the Jews were behind the assassination of Alexander II, when in fact all of the people connected to the terrorist group were atheists, with the exception of one person of Jewish birth. These rumors, coupled with political and economic unrest, led to pogroms.
So, now we know why Tevye and co. have to leave their little village. And why the Mouskewitz family fled to America.
"There are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese...." Sorry. That just popped out of my head.
And now we know how pathetically little world history I know about some eras, and how lazy I am, that I rely on Wikipedia and Dom DeLuise for my intel. I did take an amazing class on Russian literature, once upon a time, and I also did a mediocre high school report on Rasputin, but obviously there are some pretty big gaps.
For some reason, I am suddenly craving some Russian peasant bread with dill and onion that I once made from the Frugal Gourmet's Cookbook On Our Immigrant Ancestors and some Chicken Paprikash or Beef Stroganoff. It would appear that I am much better educated in food than in history.
The answers to my other questions are as follows: Fiddler was nominated for 8 Oscars and won 3. Topol did star in other films, but is most known for his role as Tevye, both on screen and stage. Bonus trivia factoid: Starsky plays the student, Perchik. (Thanks, Amy.)
So, does anyone remember that I said I would give away a set of the Catholicism dvds in February?
I'm sorry. I totally meant to do it on that elusive February 29th, but February 29th eluded me. So if you would like to win your very own set of the 10 episodes of the Catholicism series, just comment on this post.
I will be using the same old fashioned way of choosing a winner that I used before, unless I get dozens of entries and then I might bother to use a random winner generator program. I will choose a winner on Sunday afternoon, when I get around to it. Probably around 3pm, CST.
It almost makes sense that I'm starting the giveaway today, because Fr. Barron and some of the Word on Fire crew depart for the Land Down Under today.
I suggested to my brother-in-law, (who like the Chef, also works for Fr. B) that he do cinematic study for his journey by watching such films as Quigley Down Under, The Man From Snowy River, Rescuers Down Under, Crocodile Hunter the movie, Crocodile Dundee, and the Five Mile Creek series. I think he dismissed me as a flibberty-gibbet. He usually does.
If you've stuck with me through this ridiculously long and somewhat boring post, you deserve to win. Best of luck to you!