A Fiddler on My Roof

Darkness rested on my window but I am awake—

smelling, sipping, savoring my daily dose of freshly-brewed coffee.

I sipped from my Fiddler On The Roof mug.

Then I heard creaking sounds coming off of my roof.

Something walked across my tiles—a raccoon, a possum or possibly a person.

A frightening morning disruption.

Since El Paso and Dayton outdoor distractions sounded scarier.

Do I leave my couch, my coffee, my iPhone and go out into the darkness to investigate?

Maybe later, maybe at the crack of dawn.

I glanced out my window to see if anything was happening.

Seeing nothing, my fear dissipated and I laughed as I picture a bearded orthodox Jew, dressed in black, playing fiddle and dancing on my roof.

Shaking my half-clenched fists in front of my face, I bellowed, “Without tradition our lives would be a shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

I said these words so loudly that if there was a burglar on my roof, he’d have jumped off  in fear.

“I nailed that line.”

Mostel would have been proud.

Topol would have been proud.

I listened and heard not a sound coming from the roof.

My mind shifted back to the play.

What a musical!

What a metaphor!

Our lives and traditions rest on shaky foundations.

I thought:

“We’re all fiddlers on a shaky American roof—with some of our sacred traditions eviscerated—with some of our civility facing the darkness;

We’re all Tevyes, but in 1964, when my family watched Fiddler on Broadway, we didn’t look over our shoulders;

In 1964, American Jews were not being shot and killed in front of synagogues;

In 1971, when Topol played Tevye, we walked into the movie theater without fear;

In 2007, when Fiddler played in Miami, my kids never questioned their safety.”

During all those decades, our lives seemed to rest on a solid footing.

But in 2018, I recalled reading an article in the New York Times, “Baltimore ‘Fiddler’ Disrupted by ‘Heil Hitler, Heil Trump’

Shaking the paper, I screamed, “Gevalt! Oy, vey is mir! Is nothing sacred in America? What a shondah!

“Was this a scene from a Mel Brooks’ movie “The Producers?”

“Would this Baltimore disrupter follow his “Heils” by singing “Springtime for Hitler in Germany?”

He didn’t.

But he raised his hand straight up in a Nazi salute.

Some theater-goers ran straight for the exits fearing a hail of bullets would follow the Heils.

I kept reading and wondering, “What would I do? What would the cops do?”

The ushers escorted the disrupter out of the theater. (He won’t be allowed back.)

The Baltimore police didn’t arrest the nut job.

They said, “He’s protected by the First Amendment. You can find it in our Constitution. He yelled the words during intermission and he was drunk.”

Hadn’t these cops heard about the exceptions to the free speech rule?

You can’t yell, “Fire” or “Heil Hitler” in a crowded theater playing Fiddler.

I expected the cops to give out prophetic advice: “Tradition tells us alcohol has a way of freeing the racist tongue.”

But they didn’t.

I compared Tevye’s travails to ours.

A poor Jewish milkman, living in the Pale of Settlement, faced Czarist pogroms.

He tried to maintain his  traditions as outsiders disrupted his life.

I pondered the milkman’s words:

“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no?

 But here, in our little village of Anatevka,

you might say everyone of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck.

It isn’t easy.

You may ask ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’

Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home.

And how do we keep our balance?

That I can tell you in one word: tradition!” 

(Fiddler on The Roof  book by Joseph Stein)

Many of Tevye’s traditions went up in smoke.

He lost his balance, his fiddle and fell off his roof but he didn’t break his neck.

I closed my eyes and fell back to sleep.

As I slept, I dreamt of Tevye giving us an ominous warning:

“Fiddlers be careful not to break your necks.

 Storm clouds race over your heads,

 Torrential downpours soak your bodies.

Your boots slip and slide on tear-soaked shingles.

Our traditions may not allow you to keep your balance.”

I awoke as sunlight cuts through my blinds.

I got off the couch, took a sip of cold coffee and walked out my front door.

Knowing that I wouldn’t allow fear to become one of my traditions.

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed on my TOI blog. ChatGPT says, Mort is known for his works that often explore themes of love, loss, and the human connection. Laitner has published several books , including “A Hebraic Obsession.” His writing style is characterized by its emotional depth and introspection. Laitner’s works have garnered praise for their heartfelt expression and keen insight into the human experience.
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