Happy Hanukkah Playbill readers, from me, Al(exandra) Silber.
I wanted to escort you through the eight days of the Festival of Lights — with a little bit of Broadway razzle dazzle to keep the butts in the seats. So sit back, relax, grab your dreidel, prepare yourself for an onslaught of latkes and songs in Db minor, and get ready to raise a glass and drink L'Chaim to life.
This year, on the evening of December 6 in the secular calendar—Jews the world over will light a single candle in their eight-branched Hanukkah menorah (also called the Hanukkiyah- חנוכיח). The Jewish community commemorates a miracle of the burning oil by lighting candles on the menorah every night for eight nights—one the first night, two the second, three the third, and so on. There is a ninth candle in the middle of the called the shamash, which is the “servant light,” in that it is lit first, then used to light all the other candles.
The appeal of a ‘festival of light’ in the season when the sun makes its briefest appearance is obvious: the kindling of light brightens up not only the night but also our moods, and symbolizes the hope of the sun's return in a few months' time.
By the eighth night the spirit of joy and celebration that has been building all week comes to its fullest expression.
But you know what full expression means in the theatre world: it means big feels.
It means a production number about what you really really want at the close of Act 1.
Thing is, in Fiddler on the Roof, the close of Act 1 is a pogrom…
Thus! I give you what we at The Broadway Theatre’s have as our own relationships to candles and light.
Here are our Sabbath Candles on “Sabbath Prayer” during our tech rehearsal:
Jews are of course not the only people to celebrate light around the the winter solstice.
Light features prominently in many winter festivals, such as the Hindu festival of Diwali, Kwanzaa, Yalda, and of course, the lighting of Christmas trees.
And what is the best way to celebrate winter in NYC? Why! to cozy up inside a nice warm theatre and take in a Broadway show. And why not make that Broadway show one where everyone is bundled up in the Pale of Settlement in the dead of winter?
After lighting the candles, the whole family says a special prayer and sings traditional Hanukkah songs.
See what I did there… TRADITIONal Hanukkah songs like “Dreidel and Dreidel” and…um, well, an encore of “Dreidel Dreidel…”
At least at Fiddler we can sing “Tradition” over and over again, supported by our incredible orchestra lead by shiny genius Musical Director Ted Sperling.
Oh! And what would Hanukkah be without music and dancing? Like this shtetl warm-up to “Moves Like Jagger” before the show with Tzeitel and Hodel:
Hanukkah has also been given a historical narrative, for, in contrast to the other major Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, its origins are traced back to mid-second century BCE. King Antiochus IV forbade the practice of Jewish laws and customs, and violated their Temple. A small Jewish army led by Judah Maccabee to fight the powerful Greek army and won.
Now that you know Hanukkah’s history, why not indulge in a few historical points from our Fiddler company.
Here are some company members in shall we say “vintage” productions of Fiddler:
This isn’t Lori Wilner’s first Fiddler rodeo! She played Golde in both the last Broadway and recent Goodspeed productions.
Samantha Massell gave the world her Bielke at Stagedoor Manor.
And who is that? Whyyyyy that would be me giving you my 15-year-old Golde.
Michael Bernardi is Fiddler on the Roof royalty— as the son of the late great Hershel Bernardi (one of history’s great Tevye’s), he is (literally) wearing his father’s boots, and carrying on not just a tradition, but a legacy.
And let’s give the Greeks a little shout out with this photo of our resident Greek, George Psomas (who plays Avram the book seller).
The Temple then had to be re-sanctified to the worship of the God of Israel. According to the Talmud, olive oil was required to keep the menorah ablaze within the Temple. But when the Jews returned to their oil supply, they found that there was only enough oil to burn for a single day. Eight days would be required to prepare a new supply of oil. The light in the temple would be doused long before then.
But a miracle happened…
The oil in the temple lasted eight incredible days: exactly the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. Thus, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, came to be. The miracle is a reminder to all of us about endurance and sustenance against all odds.
And, who better to represent said “miracle” than our own, and MY own Motel Kamzoil, Adam Kantor, who I have the honor of listening to every night as he sings “Miracle of Miracles” to me.
This. This is us.
6. FAMILY & ANCESTRY!
Hanukkah is also a wonderful time to bring light into the lives of those around us.
At Fiddler, we try to celebrate with our nuclear theatre family, which we, naturally, call “The Bursteins.”
7. TRADITIOOOOOOONS! TRADITIONS!
Traditions are important to all Jews… so important that we open one of the greatest musicals ever written with a song entitled, um, “TRADITION.” So what are the Hanukkah traditions?
We eat a LOT of food. I mean— we always eat a lot of food, but holidays are usually pretty spectacular. On Hanukkah it is customary to eat foods that are cooked in oil, such as doughnuts, called sufganiot, and potato pancakes, called latkes to commemorate the miracle of the oil, as are the oily foods traditionally prepared for the festival.
You hang with your family.
You light the menorah.
You sing songs (like “Dreidel”…on repeat…).
After all, without our traditions our lives would be as shaky and a Fiddler on the Roof.
Right? Of course right!
8. LOVED ONES!
Hanukkah is a special holiday to connect with your loved ones — both blood-related and chosen. It is all about coming together to celebrate, and what better way to celebrate than with those you adore?
The six Fiddler "lovers" call ourselves the “Mishpucha,” which literally translates to “family,” and often means “extended family, and then some.” Well, there couldn’t be a better definition for the way the six of us feel about one another.
We go on triple dates.
And indulge in an on-going text chain.
And laugh and laugh and laugh.
And, as you can see from these diabetes-inducing photographs taken by Playbill at our Press Day, the love is real, and just like Jacques Brel, the love is alive and well and living in Anatevka.
Finally, remember wonderful Playbill readers, the true meaning of Hanukkah:
Beyond all reason or logic, we, too — like the light in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem — are inextinguishable. In the darkest and most desperate hours, when we mine ourselves for more than we ever could conceive was possible, the fuel is there. So that we may continue on.
Hope may be fragile, but it is there.
Like light. . .
Sometimes blazing, sometimes merely a tender, trembling flicker that regardless, cannot be extinguished, that flame winking even in the darkest hours. So we continue to learn again and again as time churns ever onward.
Happy Hanukkah, Playbill readers. May we all mine ourselves for more — tonight and always.