On November 3, 1971, the film version of Fiddler on the Roof was released in theaters across the U.S. The wide distribution of the movie allowed the musical, which had already touched the lived of thousands of people, to be viewed by millions. For many American Jews, such a clearly Jewish story that was loved by the media was the source of tremendous Jewish pride.

Fiddler on the Roof revolves around a poor milkman (Tevya) living in a shtetl who must deal with the turbulent changes in Russian life in 1905. He has five daughters (three of marriageable age) a tough wife and a humorous relationship with God. Russia in 1905 was on the verge of revolution, but Jews were still facing persecution (pogroms) from Czarist forces and subject to sudden expulsion.

Tevya, the lead character, was created by the Yiddish author Sholom Aleichem (Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich 1859-1916) in a collection of short stories published in 1894. The creators of the play – Joseph Stein (book), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music) – were enthralled by Sholom Aleichem’s wit, but they made several noted modifications: The original Tevya had seven daughters, Sholom Aleichem’s Russian constable was hard and cruel (whereas he and Tevya are friendly in the play), and by the end of the stories, Tevya is a widower and his daughters have all left him, as opposed to the play/film manuscript that had them moving as a large extended family to America.

During its original Broadway run in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof was performed over 3,000 times. It has had 5 Broadway revivals, most recently opening on November 20, 2015, and many stagings around the world. Oddly, it is noted as being particularly popular in Japan. Additionally, the play is one of the most popular choices for school shows.

The songs (“Sunrise-Sunset,” “If I Were A Rich Man,” etc.) are now an integral part of American Jewish culture, and the movie is considered a classic.

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