Fiddler on the Roof opens with these words from Tevye: “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up here if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word — tradition!”
When I was in our little partner-church village of Alsoboldogfalva I called home and Lory asked what it was like. I had a two-minute telephone card, so I summarized: “It’s just like Anatevka,” I said.
I told her about the hand-drawn milk wagon brought through the village each morning by the Tevye-like dairyman. He ladled the milk into containers at each customer’s house. I told her about the woman across the street who let the geese out of the gate each morning, and let them in again at night, and about the cows and goats that walk through the center of town each morning to be led to pasture, and walked home again each night. I told her about the horse-drawn wagons that share the narrow streets with the animals and compact cars.
Our partner-church village is just the way I’ve pictured Anatevka, but instead of watching it from a theater seat I found myself in the midst of it. I rubbed my eyes to be sure it wasn’t a dream. I was awake, and I was able to live this warm, touching story — the story of a people precariously balanced in a world that has been threatened again and again during their four hundred year history. How have they managed to keep their balance? That I can tell you in one word — tradition!
Their traditions include a formal Sunday service — the men and women sit in separate sections of the sanctuary. On Sunday at 11 o’clock the women enter first — the men wait outside. After the men, women and children have entered, the minister enters. After the service the women leave — the oldest first, then the younger women and children, then the men. Tradition! They do not take a collection during their service — there’s a money box at the door with a slot for donations. The treasurer takes it home each Sunday. They don’t have an annual canvass!
The minister at our partner church is paid once a year! His annual salary is subsidized in part by the state with a monthly allowance. I don’t know the exact amount, but I do know it allows only a bare-bones subsistence. The pigs, chickens, fruits and vegetables he raises are essential to his economic survival, but his work as a farmer connects him with his people in a very deep, human way.
We have different traditions from theirs, to be sure. But we keep our balance as they do — with our own traditions, including experimentation, exploration and innovation. The opportunity to live with my partner minister, with his wife and teen-age sons, made me realize that our differences are only on the surface. We’re the same in the most essential ways.
Tevye concludes his opening comment: “Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” In our little village of Alsoboldogfalva it’s not that simple. But one thing is certain: we benefit from our partnership, and we hope to offer something significant to them. During my visit I was not only awake, but I became more aware, and I appreciate your supportive, encouraging response to our partnership. Stay tuned!