Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Tevye is My Hero

So I've been watching this Tevye character for several weeks now. He's a poor man, he complains a lot; he yells a lot. He loves his family, his god, his heritage, and his community. He accepts his lot in life. But....there's more there than meets the eye.

I have a pretty short list of heroes: Lincoln, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Walt Disney, and Randy Pausch. These are people whose values/contributions to the world I revere. I'd like to add the multi-faceted character of Tevye to that list.

First of all, he must have done something right with his daughters. Although he doesn't always agree with their life choices, somewhere along the line--in a very femme-repressed society--he taught them to think for themselves, to stand up for themselves, and to go after happiness. Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava all have courage and take risks to find love and happiness in their lives. Honestly, what more could you want for your children?

Tevye, in his hundred years ago east European village has some of the same issues we have today. He sings about money and wanting to be a rich man, true. But the verse that jumps out at me is this: "If I were rich, I'd have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray. And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall...that would be the sweetest thing of all." Ultimately, what he really wants is a little quiet time, a time to sit and reflect, and hear the inner voice that guides him through life. Yes...I'm right there with you, Tevye.

He loves his family, his five daughters, and ultimately, his wife, with whom he has shared 25 years of hardship in life. His life is very difficult, but he doesn't shirk his responsibilities. He loves his community and the traditions therein.

He is a forgiving man. What Chava did went against the very core of his being, everything he stood for and believed in. And although he can't forget, he does forgive her, and wishes her well with, "God go with you."

But I think what I admire about him most of all comes to light just after he celebrates his daughter's engagement to Lazar Wolf. There is a huge celebration in the tavern, and then the Constable shows up to burden Tevye with the announcement that there will be a 'demonstration' in his village... This is hard news, and he takes it as such, but...the Constable moves on. The music swells and Tevye, in spite of the difficulties of his life, in spite of what he has just been told, and the load he carries, is still able--always able--to find the strength and the joy within and slowly, slowly, he returns to his dance. This I admire about him and I hope that in spite of whatever hand I'm dealt in life, I, too, will always be able to hear the music and return to the dance.

So these things I admire about this 'plain, simple' musical theatre character. He's a model for us us all. God go with you, Tevye. And with us, too.

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