Fiddler on the Roof is a wonderful musical, and I would like to share a few impressions about it with you- and there is a health angle. Of course, I saw it years and decades ago and more than once. But, I hadn’t seen it in a long time until I saw it recently, and I liked it just as much. I consider it a masterpiece, a spectacle of storytelling and fun, but the thing about it that is absolutely genius is: the music.
The composer, Jerry Bock, is not a household name like Rogers and Hammerstein, nor like Irving Berlin, but he is up there with them. His songs are absolute gems, and I have every expectation that a thousand years from now people will be listening to and singing, Sunrise Sunset, If I Were a Rich Man, To Life, Matchmaker and more.
For me, musical genius is the most intriguing kind of genius, and I am referring to composers. Of course, there have been a lot of great composers, but very few of this caliber. I would say that it is a one-in-a-million talent, except that that isn’t scarce enough. It’s more like one in a hundred million or maybe one in two hundred million people who can compose like this.
And it wasn’t just his songs. Even the instrumental dance numbers were very sophisticated and musically accomplished. It’s breathtaking to realize that one person wrote all that.
The story was supposed to take place in the fictional Jewish village of Anatevka in Russia in 1905, but my impression is that it would have been in modern-day Ukraine, since they kept mentioning Kiev as the big city. But, it was actually filmed in Croatia in 1971, which was part of Yugoslavia, which was part of the Soviet Union. And as you know, Communism was still in force then, as was the Cold War. So, I’m sure it took some haggling to get this Western movie made in a Communist country. And what I notice is that Communism is well represented in the movie. What I mean is that it is not maligned. The bad guys in the story are definitely the tsarists- not the commies. And the young zealot, Perchik, who is infused with socialist idealism, speaks of it as the path to freedom. And when he is arrested by the tsar army, he is sent off to Siberia. Isn’t that where the gulags were that Solzhenitsyn wrote about? How ironic! But here’s what I think: I think the Yugoslav government must have insisted that the impending Communist revolution in Russia be presented in a favorable light; otherwise they would not grant permission to film in that country.
I mentioned there is a health angle. There was a lot in the story about food, and it was mostly animal food. There were a lot of references to slaughtering animals. Five chickens were given as a wedding present- “one for each of the first five Sabbaths of their wedded life.” Slaughtering cows was discussed. You see activity in a butcher shop. Tevye, the leading character, was a milk man. And besides producing the milk and delivering the milk, he also had time to make cheese. I’d say it was an impossible amount of work output for one man and his family. But, I also found it interesting that he was frequently delivering milk to people, but nobody ever paid him. You never saw him collect so much as a ruble. No wonder he complained of poverty!
But, speaking of poverty, I want to point out a glaring contradiction: Tevye kept bemoaning being poor although he never seemed that poor. He had all these animals. He had a big place. He looked well-fed, as did his family. And they were all nicely dressed. Nobody was in rags. And they were eating a high animal food diet.
A high animal food diet is inherently NOT a poor diet. It is a rich diet. That’s because the conversion of plant foods to animal foods involves a great deal of caloric waste. For whatever calories of plant food you feed to animals, you only get back about 15% of it as animal food. So, it takes a vast abundance of plant food to maintain a high animal food diet. So, these people were not as poor as they thought themselves to be.
In the story, you see them cleaning chickens and fish for meal preparation, and you also see them baking bread. But, they didn’t show any vegetables. There was a bowl with some apples at the wedding- but that is as far as it went for fresh produce.
And otherwise in the story, you see some smoking going on, but not by Tevye, and not so much by any of the Jews but rather by the gentiles. But, there is a lot of drinking- by everybody. Following the agreement that Lazar Wolf would marry Tevye’s daughter Zeitel, the two men start drinking heavily. It was probably supposed to be vodka because it was clear as water, and I’m sure it was water. But, they were putting it down in an amount that could have produced acute alcohol intoxication.
Of course, the whole idea of the story is that they lived according to “tradition” but the traditions were being challenged by all the changes going on in the world. Tevye even says at the beginning that: “In Anatevka, we have traditions for everything, how to eat, how to sleep…” etc. You definitely get the impression that it was an agriculturally-rich area with a relatively mild climate: undoubtedly cold in the winter but with a long enough warm season to produce ample crops. So, the practice of eating all that animal food and making it so prominent in the diet was definitely just a tradition; it wasn’t necessary- not there.
And today, because of commerce and technology and distribution, it really isn’t necessary anywhere. Plant foods are abundant everywhere, and plant foods are what people should be primarily eating. I don’t say people have to be strict vegetarians, but they should definitely be MOSTLY vegetarian- if they are going to eat wisely. Loading up on animal foods is an antiquated practice- nutritionally speaking.
But, watch Fiddler on the Roof if you haven’t seen it because it is delightful. I have seen it many times, and I will see it more times because it is a spectacle of genius and talent and accomplishment. It is one of the greatest musicals of all time.