By Craig Nudelman
Last month was the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the 1971 film adaption of the hit musical, Fiddler on the Roof.
JW3, a Jewish organisation in London, organised a plenary with some of the cast members from the iconic film. It was wonderful. It had four out of five of Tevye’s daughters, Fruma Sarah, Perchek, and Chaim Topol’s daughter, who represented him. There were stories and anecdotes about the making of the film (did you know it was filmed in Yugoslvia?!) and it was a delight to watch. Fiddler on the Roof was a seminal moment in showing what life was like in 19th century Russia for Jews. And the word I associate the most with the musical is ‘tradition’. (Please picture me saying it with my index finder pointing up).
Tradition is what makes a culture and forms the basis and foundation of our society, which includes our families. It brings a sense of belonging, which is something I’ve written about in previous columns. It defines our past, our present, and our future. Without our traditions our value system isn’t defined. Think about any of your family traditions and how they have played a critical role in shaping who you are today. Nevertheless, as Tevye comes to realise, our traditions have to change and become more suited to life in modern culture and society.
The same week that I saw the plenary, Prince Philip passed away. He represented the long-standing tradition of British monarchy and its place in society, not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the Commonwealth and broader global society. His death was felt around the world. I mean, it wasn’t a shock exactly — he was 99 years old, three months shy of his 100th birthday, and had been married to the Queen for 76 years. From the Baby Boomer generation until now, five generations have known Prince Philip as the Duke of Edinburgh. But is the tradition of the monarchy still relevant today? Does the world, and the British especially, need a monarchy?
For me, the monarchy represents stability in the global world order. The Queen has been a force in the world since 1952, albeit in a passive manner. She has seen 15 British Prime Ministers come and go. I find that crazy. In the face of seismic shifts that have taken place globally in the last 70 years, it is amazing that the world has had this one stable global figurehead for generations. There has not been an organisation or political system that has been as constant as the British royal family. We can only assume that even this will change eventually, as everything does.
Change can be good. We have changed from a society which was racist, sexist and was accepting of any form of bigotry. We are now aware that these issues are not acceptable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean people have changed. The incredible technology that has been created in the past 40 years has seen our society change into one that is interconnected and globally aware. Of course, there are positives and negatives regarding this, but one can’t deny it has changed the face of the world, influencing not only individuals but also creating political changes around the world.
These changes have also been seen in our Jewish community. For the past few months I have been working on developing a presentation to be shown at a conference for a Jewish organisation in the US. They approached me last November after seeing my segment on Simcha about my Jewish walking tours which I conduct for my company Mother City Jewish Tours (which you can see on YouTube). I had to film my tour (thanks Josh and Gabi for the help!) and went over the history of the community and how it’s changed since 1841. The changes in the way Judaism has been understood since then and how many iterations it has been through are quite amazing. From the very British manner in which the community was formed to the influence of the heimishe Litvaks, we can understand what the community went through and how we ended up where we are today. But there are some things that haven’t changed and seem to be a ‘tradition’, in a way. Herring and kichel, anyone?
I was asked the other day how to involve young Jews in communal events and how we can include them in the community. This is not only a question that I’m trying to answer currently. It’s a question that’s been asked from my time at Habonim, the Jewish Board of Deputies, and Herzlia, and it’s probably not the only generation that has had this ‘problem’. I’m sure that from the 1940s until now Jewish youth have been ‘apathetic’, ‘disengaged’, and ‘disinterested’ in being active in the community. And yet, the community continues to run. It seems as though this tradition, worrying about the community’s future, will always be there. The small majority who attend Shuls, Limmud, and Jewish youth movements are active. It seems that it isn’t Jewish youth inactivity that is a problem, in my opinion, but rather emigration and the shrinking of the young Jewish community. But that’s a different story altogether.
Tradition is important and is the foundation of who we are, as individuals, families, and communities. Our role as parents and communal leaders is to strive to pass these traditions down to future generations. I want my daughters to have Shabbat dinner with my family. I mean, I also want them to read Harry Potter and watch Star Wars so that they value curiosity and imagination, but I wouldn’t necessarily call that a tradition. I want them to share the tradition of watching the Manchester Derby, and watch Manchester United lift the Premier League trophy (BH it will happen soon). Sharing our unique Jewish and South African traditions and values will ensure that they, too, can pass these traditions down to future generations to reinforce the values and ideals that we hold so dear to our hearts.
• Published in the print edition of the May 2021 issue. Download the May 2021 issue PDF here.
• Visit our Portal to the Jewish Community to see a list of all the Jewish organisations in Cape Town with links to their websites.
• Sign up for our newsletter and never miss another issue!
• Please support the Cape Jewish Chronicle with a voluntary Subscription. For payment info click here.
Follow the Chronicle: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn