Fiddler on the Roof is the best Jewish film/play/book of all time. The film and play are based on the book Tevye the Dairyman written by the prolific Yiddish author Shalom Aleichem (Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich). Besides being a dark comedy of life in the shtetl, Fiddler on the Roof is the personal tale of one dairyman’s confrontation with modernity. For centuries, Jews were denied freedom of movement. They lived in shtetls, ghettos, at the fringes of civilized society. Then, in a whirl of revolutionary air, Jews were given the same political rights as their Christian neighbors. Jews suddenly went from shantytown communities to living the heart of bustling, industrial Europe.
When our ancestors left the ghetto walls, they gained their freedom, but they also lost a bit of the heart of Jewish community. For better and for worse, the shtetl kept Jews Jewish. Today, among the many challenges we face, we struggle to balance our Jewish identity with our identity as Americans. The great German-Jewish scholar, Franz Rosenzweig, came up with the solution that we still use today. Rather than return to the shtetl mindset, we must recognize that we live as a part of the greater interconnected world and that Judaism is our heart, our center that keeps us grounded.
In 1920, Franz Rosenzweig started a revolutionary school in Berlin called the Lehrhaus, the Learning House. Rosenzweig believed that we do not need to renounce any part of living a modern life; rather, we must use this new lens to lead us back to Torah, back to our heart. This kind of Judaism says yes to being proud members of the greater society and proud members of the Jewish people.
So what does all this have to do with Temple Emanu-El?
Temple Emanu-El was founded by and for families who wanted a Jewish home where they and their children could come and deepen that relationship to their hearts. The reason why we must return to our hearts is that that is what centers us in this great wide world. What Temple Emanu-El has taught for forty years, and will continue to teach for generations to come, is that there is a Jewish heart at the center of each action we take. When we feed the hungry, when we raise our voices for justice, and when we love our neighbor, we have found a way back to our Jewish heart.
We have been blessed by forty years of our Jewish home. May the next forty years (and many, many more) bring us closer to our Jewish heart and inspire us to be the prophetic beacon of light to all people.