When Anti-Semitism Comes to Jewish Theater, It Feels Deeply Personal

On Wednesday night, during a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Baltimore, an audience member, who was removed thereafter, shouted “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump.”

Honestly, even though I don’t live in Baltimore, this felt like a deeply personal attack. My Jewishness and love of theater are so intertwined, I can’t narrow down why this chant made me upset to just one reason. But I’ll start with how Jewish theater has always continued to thrive amidst any horrific anti-Semitism happening at the time.

Jewish theater, specifically Yiddish theater, was a staple in early 20th century New York. In 1918, New York City had 20 Yiddish Theaters. Twenty! This attracted over two million patrons every year, my maternal grandfather’s family and himself being some of them. They were Jews who had recently arrived from what’s now known as Belarus. So, while theater was a form of entertainment, seeing these shows allowed them to be immersed in Jewish culture when mainstream culture did not embrace Jews. It still arguably does not.

While my maternal grandfather was a patron of Yiddish theater during its heyday, my love of theater comes from my maternal grandmother. She is an artist, and she was a set designer for theater shows in Toronto during the 1950s. I followed in my grandmother’s footsteps into theater during my middle school and high school years. I was a costume designer for four years during high school. Theater became a home for me, from a love and passion that was passed down from my grandmother to myself. In a sense, this Nazi chant happened in my home, a place where I have always felt safe, worked hard, and had fun.

I once saw “Fiddler on the Roof” with my Jewish family members in New York City. Honestly, at the time, I was a bit bored: I had seen the play before and was already familiar with all the songs. But the conversations that we had after are what I’m thinking about now. We talked about how lucky we are that we’re living in the United States in the 21st century. About how we’re safe as a family, unlike Teyve and his family, whose lives were constantly at risk because they were Jewish.

But now I have to ask, are we really that safe as Jews living in the United States in the 21st century? A few years, I wouldn’t have thought to even ask myself that question. But after the Tree of Life shooting and how visible neo-Nazis have become, I’m scared. After someone shouted “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump,” in a theater, a place where I have called home, and a place that has been home to so many Jews throughout history, my heart has shattered even more than I had thought was possible.

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