16 April 2021
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the movie Fiddler on the Roof in 1971, an epic musical comedy-drama film produced and directed by Norman Jewison.
The movie is an adaptation of the 1964 Broadway musical of the same name, with music composed by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and a screenplay by Joseph Stein based on a series of stories by the writer Sholem Aleichem.
The title of Fiddler on the Roof and the set design for the original Broadway production are based on Marc Chagall’s painting, ‘The Fiddler.’
The film tells the story of the milkman Tevye (played by Chaim Topol), the father of five daughters, his wife Golde (Norma Crane), and their attempts to maintain their Jewish religious and cultural traditions and heritage as outside influences come to bear on family life.
Throughout the film, Tevye talks to God and directly to the audience in monologues in which he ponders tradition, poverty, anti-Semitism, violence, and family divisions.
Tevye struggles with new sexual mores, women’s autonomy, revolution, and interfaith marriage. His three older daughters wish to marry for love – each one’s choice of a husband moves further away from the customs of his faith – and the family also faces a pogrom when a Tsarist edict orders the eviction of the Jews from the shtetl of Anatevka – ‘underfed, overworked Anatevka.’
It is Ukraine in 1905. But Anatevka could as easily be Yakmyan or one of many similar towns near Kovno in Lithuania from which many Jewish families fled to Cork and Dublin at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries escaping similar pogroms.
Tevye leaves with his family for Kraków, a hint perhaps at how anti-Semitism in central Europe would reach its deepest depravity in Auschwitz, about 65 km west of Kraków.
When Fiddler on the Roof first opened on Broadway in 1964, it was an astonishing event for many Jews, evoking a pride in a public expression of Jewishness that no Jew had experienced in America, and it captivated the imaginations of Jews and non-Jews alike. General Pinochet dismissed Fiddler as a ‘Marxist inspired’ work with ‘disruptive elements harmful to the nation’ when he banned the show in Chile in 1974.
The show has had at least five revivals on Broadway, and MGM announced a planned remake of the movie last year. In her cultural history of the musical, Wonder of Wonders, Alisa Solomon notes that every year at least 200 schools put on the show.
The most Jewish element of Fiddler may be the constant conflict within Judaism between tradition and modernity, although the show’s opening number, ‘Tradition,’ was a late addition to the musical. The tests of Tevye’s ability to straddle the ever-widening gulf between tradition and modernity becomes increasingly difficult. Finally, when his third daughter Chava chooses Fyedka a gentile, he is forced in his torment either to move forward into being a new Jew or to return to the older, traditional way of life.
When the musical was made into a film in 1971, it brought the conflict in Judaism between tradition and change to the attention of a world that had not known about it. But it also became memorable for songs such as ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker,’ ‘If I Were a Rich Man,’ ‘Miracle of Miracles,’ ‘To Life’ and ‘Sunrise, Sunset,’ and ‘Do You Love Me?’ as well as the ‘Bottle Dance’ at the wedding reception.
However, for my prayers and reflections this Friday evening (16 April 2021), I am returning to the scene in the movie that includes the ‘Sabbath Prayer,’ which reflects a traditional and peaceful Jewish family custom on Friday evenings. This song invokes several traditional blessings associated with Shabbat evenings.
The first verse implores God’s protection and defence of his people. It is also a prayer to not stray from inherited religious traditions and roots.
The second verse is a blessing for daughters to be like the matriarchs of Israel, naming, in particular, Ruth and Esther.
The third verse is a blessing for longevity and the strengthening of families, with a prayer for ‘good wives’ and ‘husbands.’
The last verse is an appeal for God’s enduring favour and bestowing of happiness.
May the Lord protect and defend you.
May he always shield you from shame.
May you come to be
in Israel a shining name.
May you be like Ruth and like Esther
May you be deserving of praise.
Strengthen them, Oh Lord,
and keep them from the strangers’ ways.
May God bless you and grant you long lives.
(May the Lord fulfil our Sabbath prayer for you.)
May God make you good mothers and wives
(May he send you husbands who will care for you.)
May the Lord protect and defend you.
May the Lord preserve you from pain.
Favour them, Oh Lord, with happiness and peace.
Oh, hear our Sabbath prayer. Amen.
During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:
1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;
2, the day’s Gospel reading;
3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).
This week, I am offering photographs of churches with close associations with my family and ancestors. My photographs this morning (16 April 2021) are from Saint Mary’s Church, Callan, Co Kilkenny.
Thomas Shelly and others recall a tradition, whose origins or antiquity I have been unable to trace. It says three women from the Comerford family, described as ‘The Shaughrans,’ provided an unnamed Bishop of Ossory with funds to defray the costs of building the nave and two side aisles of Saint Mary’s Church, Callan.
Shelley gives no source or references for this myth, and it appears that Saint Mary’s was built or rebuilt in its present form in the 15th century. But, according to this legend, each woman ‘gave equal shares of their fortunes for this purpose, stipulating that each should have a distinct portion erected on her behalf; and to this cause is attributed the form of the structure of this portion of the building, which is peculiar to itself.’
Edmund Comerford was the last pre-Reformation Bishop of Ferns and Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. Bishop Edmund may have begun his monastic career as an Augustinian in Callan. He became Rector of Saint Mary’s, Callan, and Prior of Saint John’s, Kilkenny, in 1498. In a fashion that was typical of late mediaeval pluralists, Edmund remained Rector of Callan while he was both Dean of Saint Canice’s (1487-1509) and Bishop of Ferns (1505-1509).
Saint Mary’s was the traditional burial place for many branches of the Comerford family, and their graves and monuments in Saint Mary’s provide interesting insights into the power and influence of the Comerford family in this part of Co Kilkenny in the period immediately after the death of Bishop Edmund Comerford.
Gerald (or Garret) Comerford (ca 1558?-1604), is buried in Saint Mary’s, where his monument is the most impressive of the Comerford graves or tombs in Callan. His legal career was helped by being a third cousin of the Earl of Ormond and a brother-in-law of the Chief Justice. He was the Attorney-General for Connacht (1585), an MP for Callan in 1585, was involved in negotiations on behalf of the Elizabethan administration with the pirate queen Grace O’Malley, and witnessed a dramatic shipwreck of the Spanish Armada off the Mayo coast.
At the end of his career, he became a member of the Council of Munster, Second Justice of Munster, Chief Justice of Munster and Second Baron of the Exchequer of Ireland. Throughout this career, however, Garret continued to live at Inchiholohan or Castleinch, near Callan, and continued to work on behalf of the Ormond interests. He died in 1604 and was buried in the north aisle of Saint Mary’s Church. His altar tomb, sculpted by Kerrin, displays emblems of the passion and crucifixion and his coat-of-arms.
A broken was the raised shaft of cross commemorating Nicholas Comerford, who died on 25 July 1597.
A monument in the ruined South Aisle commemorates Thomas Comerford, who died in ca 1627/1629. This monument is one of the early examples of a member of the Comerford family in Ireland using the coat of arms of the Comberford family of Comberford, east of Lichfield and north of Tamworth in Staffordshire.
His contemporary, the Revd Thomas Comerford of Ballymack, was educated at Trinity College Dublin and was ordained in the Church of Ireland. He became Chaplain of the Trinity Chapel, a chantry chapel in Callan, and later Vicar of Attanagh and then Vicar of The Rower, Co Kilkenny. He died in 1635.
The chancel of Saint Mary’s served as the Church of Ireland parish church until the 1970s.
John 6: 1-15 (NRSVA):
1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ 10 Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:
The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 April 2021) invites us to pray:
Let us pray that our eyes might be opened to see others as Christ sees them instead of as our biases do.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org