God bless Israel, a fiddler on the world’s roof: opinion

A rocket fired by Palestinian militants from inside Gaza Strip makes its way towards Israel. (AP)

Earlier this month I took my children to watch their grandfather, who they affectionately call their “Pop,” perform in the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof” at a community theater near Birmingham.

Pop played one of the Jewish residents of Anatevka, Russia, who were struggling to keep their culture, their homes and their heads amid the anti-Semitism of the early 20th century. The young Jews believed their traditions were out of date. The older Jews believed their traditions were being eroded by outsiders. And the Tsar just wanted them all out, period.

The lead character, Tevye, explained their precarious position during the opening monologue.

“Every one of us is a fiddler on a roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck,” Tevye said, as a young man played a violin while balancing on a rooftop built on the stage. “It isn’t easy.”

As my children clapped and kept time with the musical’s popular songs, and smiled with amazed delight at seeing their beloved Pop sing and dance upon the stage, my thoughts couldn’t help but drift to the ceaseless plight of the Jews, and the current attacks on the nation of Israel.

During Biblical times the Jews were driven out of Israel by calamity and then hauled out by conquest. They were entirely expelled by the Romans and scattered like seeds in the wind to every corner of the world. Then the Diaspora faced centuries of systemic discrimination, violent persecution and repeated expulsions — like the one portrayed in Anatevka — until it all culminated with the Holocaust.

“Never again,” the Jews said, so they took the land of Israel back by force, held it against incredible odds, and built a nation to once again call home. They’ve been fighting like mad ever since to defend it, even to the point of world-wide condemnation, but I don’t blame them one bit. In fact, I feel a near unequivocal support for Israel. Here’s why:

First, while I certainly don’t expect anyone other than a few Christians to share this belief, in Genesis 12:13 my faith teaches that I should support the children of Abraham. (“I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”) It may seem irrational, but it’s a sincere belief.

There’s certainly more to it than that, though, starting with Israel’s position as the ultimate underdog. They were outnumbered and outgunned when Israel was re-established in 1949, and yet they beat back invading armies several times. Now they stand, surrounded by enemies who promise their annihilation, abandoned by a global community who has hated them for centuries, and waking every morning to the prospect that rockets will rain indiscriminately down onto their neighborhoods, not to mention the looming threat that an enemy might develop a nuclear weapon. Yet they still fiight, and they fight very well. It’s hard not to like that.

Israel has also taken very little — an underused desert — and turned it into a prosperous nation. When I once flew the route westward from Amman, Jordan, to Tel Aviv, Israel, I was amazed at how the barren desert blossomed into green pastures as we crossed into the area farmed by Jewish settlers. It’s one thing to take land. It’s another to hold it. It’s another still to make something of it, and Israel has done just that. It’s hard not to like that, too.

On the other hand, it’s equally as difficult to sympathize with their opponents, especially when Hamas shields its fighters behind women and children in schools and hospitals. I once felt sorry for the Palestinians, but when I saw images of them celebrating the September 11, 2001, attacks, I remember thinking, “Okay, I’m done worrying about those guys.” It was an emotional response, for sure, but it hasn’t gone away, either.

And neither will the Jews, as much as people seem to want them to.

“You may ask, why do you stay up there if it’s so dangerous?” Tevye said while the fiddler played on. “Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home.”

Israel is their home now, and I hope the fiddler plays on, regardless of what the world wants to hear.

(J. Pepper Bryars grew up in Mobile and is now a writer living in Huntsville. Contact him at jpepperbryars@gmail.com and jpepperbryars.com.)