NEW YORK – At the end of “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevye, his wife Golde, and daughters join the line of refugees fleeing Anatevka, a fictitious Eastern European shtetl about to be overrun in a pogrom.
To be sure the parallels to today’s refugee crisis and forced emigrations were not lost on Wednesday night’s audience: Seated in the Broadway Theater were diplomats from more than 70 countries, all guests of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations. They were invited to attend the special performance to mark 68 years of Israeli independence.
Why “Fiddler”? At first blush it might seem unusual to celebrate Independence Day with a musical, the story of which is rooted in Eastern Europe. But the play portrayed an important element of Jewish culture to the diplomats, and the need for a strong State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, according to the Israeli mission.
For Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon, the evening offered a chance to break free from the confines of a conference room and engage in something a little more relaxed.
‘Informal cultural events like these open a window for the leaders of the world into our rich heritage’
“Along with our intensive diplomatic efforts, informal cultural events like these open a window for the leaders of the world into our rich heritage and allows them to better understand how vital the modern State of Israel is to the Jewish people,” Danon said. “Holding our reception in the informal setting of this play, and not at another cocktail party at the UN, will provide us with another opportunity to portray our beautiful culture to the world, and explain about the unique connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”
Earlier this year the embassy held a special event featuring the music and culture of Jews from Arab countries, and before Passover it hosted a model Seder in which dozens of ambassadors participated.
“There are new ways of reaching out and I think this is a very good way to do that. This was a lighter atmosphere in which we can get to know each other,” said Philbert Johnson, Deputy Permanent Representative of Ghana to the UN.
With over 1,200 guests participating, this was the largest Independence Day celebration ever hosted by the Mission.
‘I understand this is a play about Jewish culture and this is a great way to introduce that’
“I must say Danny had a great idea. It’s very well conceived. Nobody has done anything like this before. I also understand this is a play about Jewish culture and this is a great way to introduce that,” said Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Ambassador to the UN.
“Fiddler on the Roof” was brought to stage for the first time in 1964. Fifty-two years later, the story about migration and displacement, assimilation and conversion, still resonates.
The show’s director Bartlett Sher said the show’s opening and closing sequences were a very intentional statement about the refugee crises.
“It was a genuine exploration of identity. Whether you are Jewish, or not, you see where your parents or family might have come from,” said Sher, whose own father was born in a Lithuanian shtetl. “I wanted to force the audience – from a contemporary point of view – to place themselves in the circle of the Jewish Diaspora, or other refugees.”
Whether the attending diplomats to the UN left the theater inspired to address the refugee crises, most were thrilled to partake in the evening.
Certainly Ambassador Isobel Cole, the US Representative to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform, was won over by the evening.
“I’m thrilled the Israeli mission wanted to celebrate Independence Day this way,” Cole said. “As a mother of five children I have sat through many renditions of “Fiddler on the Roof,” but I am sure this will be the best. It is so relevant. People being under stress, their lives being turned upside down because of narrow mindedness and oppression.”