"Is There A Canopy In Store For Me?"
What do the fictional characters of the hit musical
Fiddler On The Roof think about marriage equality?
On Tuesday, speaking during the Illinois House of Representatives debate on marriage equality, State Rep. David Harris summarized the acclaimed musical Fiddler On The Roof. He then used its plot points to argue against equal rights for people who are gay or lesbian.
Eager to know what others thought of his confusing analogy, I tracked down the residents of the Russian shtetl of Anatevka.
The villagers’ comments (translated here from the original Hollywood-accented Yiddish) were surprising and insightful:
Do You Love Me?
“I’m flattered and honored,” kvelled milkman Tevye (who did not provide his last name). “To be referenced by Illinois State Rep. David Harris has been a lifelong ambition of mine, right alongside escaping persecution and building a dream-home for my wife, Golde. And not only that—David Harris said my name on the House floor and he almost pronounced it correctly. What a mensch!”
As she watched the marriage equality debate, Tevye’s wife Golde paid attention to the politicians who explained that her heterosexual marriage was under threat. “After 25 years of cooking Tevye’s meals, cleaning his house, and milking his cow, I was worried that the gays and the lesbians would ruin everything for us. Would our marriage last another 25 years? Would Tevye still love me? But, after the bill passed, my Tevye reassured me that our healthy bickering and kvetching about each other would continue until one of us dies. Thank God. So, now my only fear is that I’ll be expected to invite these newly married gays and lesbians for Shabbes dinner all at once. I mean, where would they all sit?”
Golde’s friend Yente, the local matchmaker, was incredibly excited when the marriage equality bill SB10 passed with 61 votes to 54. “Oy, it’s vonderful!” she clapped. “All the boys and boys, and all the girls and girls I can now set up together! They have vebsites and smart phone apps. for hook-ups, I know, but you just can’t beat a good old fashioned shidduch [arranged marriage]. To be honest, with a same sex-marriage, I’m not sure vhich side of the family will need to pay the dowry, but, as I’ve said before, even the vorst husband, God forbid, is better than no husband, God forbid.”
Newlyweds Motel and Tzeitel Kamzoil were somewhat apathetic to the passage of the bill. Motel, a tailor and rising fashion designer (who is rumored to appear on Season 85 of Project Runway), explained: “All these Illinoisans are running around calling the vote a wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, but Tzeitel and I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It doesn’t make a difference to us.”
Tzeitel, Tevye and Golde’s eldest daughter, added: “[The bill] doesn’t affect us, true, but we’re still delighted that every person in the Land of Lincoln will soon be able to find and catch and marry her or his own perfect match.”
With Tevye and Golde’s fourth and fifth daughters still unmarried, Tevye acknowledges that marriage equality could now double each daughter’s chance of finding a husband or wife: “I’m all about TRADITION!—as David Harris reminded us—but my children and grandchildren come first. As my son-in-law Motel once told me, even a poor lesbian tailor is entitled to some happiness.”
“Representative Davis Harris doesn’t get it,” Tevye’s son-in-law Perchik snapped. Perchik is known for his modern interpretations of biblical texts and for insisting on dancing with his girlfriend, Hodel (now his wife), at a family wedding. Perchik argued, with passion in his voice and a camp skip in his step, “David Harris failed to understand that the story of Anatevka is about the history of antisemitism, the roots of prejudice, and the struggle of social minorities to live in freedom and without fear.”
“Exactly!” Hodel agreed, speaking over Skype from Siberia, far from the home she loves. “The central point of the musical is that traditions change over time. As we danced at my sister’s wedding, Russian thugs, encouraged by the authorities, set the venue on fire. Yet David Harris has the chutzpah to use the historically-inspired 1905 story of our Jewish family’s struggle to justify the contemporary discrimination of another minority group that simply wants to live and love in peace.”
Tevye’s daughter, Chava, was also unhappy with Rep. David Harris. “I’ve been awake from sunset to sunrise thinking about what he said,” Chava sighed. David Harris cited Chava’s quarrel with her father over her marriage to Fyedka, a Christian man, as an example of tradition stretched too far. “At first, Papa didn’t approve of my marriage to a non-Jew,” Chava explained. “But at the very end of our Tony Award winning play and Academy Award winning film, Papa gives me his blessing. 'May God be with you,' he calls out to me. I know it’s a three hour film, but it’s available on YouTube for goodness sake; there’s just no excuse for misquoting the plot.”
“And on top of that,” Fyedka chimed in, “David Harris seems to not realize that in the United States it’s perfectly fine to marry someone of a different faith. So his analogy was as unstable as...” His father-in-law Tevye interrupted: “You could say his analogy was as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”
A Blessing On Your Head
On hearing the news of the passing of the marriage bill, a number of shtetlfolk were overjoyed. “To life, to life, L’Chayim!” shouted local butcher and business owner Lazar Wolf and he pledged one month’s profits in support of defending the bill from lawmakers who may try to repeal the new law.
Even voices from beyond the grave shared their elation: “A blessing on your head, Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov,” sang Golde’s late mother, “To see a daughter wed, Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov.”
Tevye, who heard his dead mother-in-law’s voice in his dream, found himself changing his mind on equal rights for gay and lesbian people: “I’m now certain that her blessing was a sign that full marriage equality will become a new tradition for all of us. As my sweet, gentle child Chavaleh once told me, the world is changing. In fact, if I were a rich man, I’d consider moving to Illinois and running against David Harris in the Republican primaries, biddy-biddy-biddy-biddy-bum.”
Tevye had to cut his interview short. But as he ran off to deliver the last milk cans to his neighbors before dragging his cart home before dinnertime, he called back with a final thought. “You know, there’s a bigger lesson here,” he said, looking up at the beautiful, autumn sunset. “As the good book says, thou shalt not cite a Broadway musical when arguing against gay rights.”
Copyright 2013. Danny M. Cohen. All Rights Reserved.
Originally posted on Thursday November 7, 2013.