Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Tradition!    If you think of me as overly sentimental because I can’t even read Wikipedia’s synopsis of Fiddler On The Roof without tearing up, that’s O.K. In the decades since I first saw Tevye, Golde, and their daughters, my relationship to them and to the musical has deepened.

Those years have etched their lessons; I’ve witnessed tragic anti-Semitism in its modern forms. So, too, the joy I’ve shared with my wonderful daughters ties me to Tevye and his. Indeed, every song from Fiddler attaches its melody to my emotional history. Not only that, but I’ve found that selling schmattas has often been just as humbling as wearing the yoke of a dairy cart.

Even now, as I write this, I think of “Sunrise, Sunset” and swallow hard. No longer do I govern my children; they fend for themselves. My reality and its norms are no longer theirs.

And that is as it should be. Although I feel as if I’ve known that for a long while, the true test of my knowing came when both established residence in Jerusalem. To them, Israel is like the big back yard I once enjoyed. It’s become as much a home to them as my small city is to me. My generational influence has been eclipsed.

“Sunrise, Sunset” beckons. As I dry my eyes, I applaud them, their intelligence, their achievement, their love of life, their radiant humanity. Me, from my American Anatevka, couldn’t be more proud.

Perhaps that’s a sign I’ve slowed a step or two. More and more, they explain to me what they’re doing and why out of kindness; their explanations shine light on the shadow I’m becoming.

And that’s O.K. My shield and my influence were meant to be temporary; they were meant to paint over the coating I applied to the canvas of their lives. And they have.

In no time, my older daughter will be a nurse, my younger a Rabbi. They are fulfilling dreams of their making. I sing “Sunrise, Sunset”; near its end, a peace sweeps over me.

Of course, like Tevye, my eyes are watchful, mindful of perils they still might not see. “Buy gas masks,” I implore my older daughter and her husband. “Stockpile food,” I suggest. They’ve let me know, in light of Iranian threats, they’ve done both.

To my younger, an outspoken reformer with a uniquely balanced perspective, I recently wrote to ask that she let me know she wasn’t one of the ten women arrested at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I’d read about the group of women who were protesting for equal rights to pray where and how they wanted at the ancient Temple wall.
Praying as men did there was officially forbidden to them. Although I strongly support my daughter’s right to express herself in prayer, I had hoped she hadn’t been imprisoned for doing so.

That was my concern. From here in America, it followed my earlier one about her hiking in the Negev when IDF planes flew overhead en route to the skirmish in Gaza. For her, I want safety so that she can mix prayer and protest with the joy she brings to life.

When she responded, I was relieved, but saddened too. She was not one of the ten women arrested, but her prayer shawl, my Dad’s tallis I had given her before she left for Jerusalem, had been confiscated! Both to her and to me, Dad’s tallis is a treasure.
So many times, it had transferred his kiss to our Torah.

Fortunately, it was returned eventually. In the meantime, my daughter, along with the other Women of the Wall, waited outside the police station for their comrades to be freed. Hours later, they were.

Eloquently, my daughter described her feelings about limitations imposed on women, traditional limitations that have hardened into what passes as halakha or law. She wrote:

They told us that the Wall is a place where they follow Jewish law (as if we had no idea what Jewish law was). We told them that there is no halakha about women wearing tallitot (this is true… a tallis is custom, not law), but they ignored us.  When they took Pop-Pop’s tallis, I cried…

Breathing deeply, I tried to return to the sounds of “Sunrise, Sunset” without success. My daughter’s stirring words had blocked the melody:

We prayed, we were interrupted several times by police, but we kept praying, and it was so holy and beautiful. The men who came along in support (including Adam and several Israeli Paratroopers who had liberated the Wall in 1967) stood behind us or near us on the men’s side…

Every semester, I mention to my classes that, for almost twenty years of Jordanian control of the Western Wall, Jews were not allowed to pray at that Jewish holy site. And now my daughter is asking for women to be allowed there. It’s a battle she may wage for a while; the Tevye in me knows that. At least, she’s not alone. She writes:

The Israel-loving idealist in me was crushed, watching the paratroopers who had liberated the Kotel shake their heads and say that this sort of sectarian control was not what they fought for.

In closing, she sent two websites for me to view. I’ll share them along with my hope that change that must come will and that our most loving prayers will soon connect all of us fiddlers on the roof.

                                                                     B. Koplen 2/12/13

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