You Need to Hear This Queer Parody of ‘If I Were a Rich Man’

The Klezmommies' rendition of the "Fiddler on the Roof" song satirizes trans Jewish aspirations.

“Oh Lord, you made many, many gender-bent people. I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be trans. But it’s no great honor either,” vocalist Zemirah Willow Higgins prays in the microphone, powerfully transforming the opening lines of “If I Were a Rich Man.” Moments later, she and accordionist/pianist Miri Verona are making jokes about mohels and mixing milk and meat. (Full disclosure: Miri was a 2022-2023 Hey Alma college writing fellow and is an occasional contributor.)

Their banter perfectly sets the tone for “If I Were a Rich Trans,” a queer and campy “Fiddler on the Roof” parody from band The Klezmommies.

Tevye’s dreams of not working hard and building a large house are swapped with longings for affordable trans healthcare and promises to dole out mutual aid. A yard full of noisy poultry is switched out with rowdy TERFs. Instead of name-dropping Solomon the Wise or imaginings of Reb Tevye, the lyrics call out anti-progressive transwomen like Caitlyn Jenner and Blaire White. And throughout, queer references and use queer lingo like futch, alternative pronouns, FFS and more are peppered in. All of that combined with the delightfully playful accompaniment and fun cover art by Rena Yehuda-Newman, “If I Were a Rich Trans” is a delight. I, for one, while be singing it to myself through all of Pride Month, which conveniently is right around the corner.

The initial spark for “If I Were a Rich Trans” likely came from verbal and musical riffing at a Klezmommies rehearsal. “The two of us joke a lot about Jwitter discourse and terminally online trans culture, so the song is kind of a satire of that in the same way that the original is satirizing Jewish aspiration,” Verona said via email, recalling how she and Higgins adapted the song together in about two hours. “It’s characteristic of Willow’s and my transfroy realness, linguistic fixations and incredible love for one another.” (Transfroy is the Yiddish word for trans woman.)

But the pair couldn’t have made the song alone. The Klezmommies is also comprised of Alex DeBello (fiddle), Sela Dombrower (substitute piano/accordion), Mikayla Frank-Martin (trombone), Celia Goldstein (viola), Ryan Saladin (percussion), Marya Wydra (bass), Miri Verona (accordion/piano), Georgia Chau (clarinet) and Eviatar Shlosberg (trumpet). The group formed at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin around 2021 and has been together ever since. Their first album, “Running Out of Time,” which “If I Were a Rich Trans” is on, came out last month.

Photo via Miri Verona

The Klezmommies are just the latest contributions to a strong queer tradition in klezmer revival. “In the 1980s, as the AIDS crisis became a pivotal part of queer activism, klezmer became a medium of queer pride and Jewish pride,” Maxa Sawyer wrote for Hey Alma in 2022. Perhaps the most well-known klezmer revival band, The Klezmatics, was founded in 1986, and their debut album “Shvaygn = Toyt” (1988) refers to the AIDS advocacy slogan “Silence = Death.” In the 1990s, more queer klezmer bands popped up like Isle of Klezbos, Metropolitan Klezmer and Gay Iz Mir. And more recently The Klezbians and Kleztronica (though the latter is more experimental queer Jewish techno) have come onto the scene.

For the band, being a part of this tradition is incredibly meaningful. And, for Verona, falling in love with klezmer tracked onto the period of time when she came out. It’s also a political act. “Willow, Alex and I actually demo-ed it at our university’s Trans Day of Visibility celebration last year with a beat-up CASIO keyboard. This was right after hearing speakers discussing the precarious moment we as trans people are in today, being targeted by legislation and denigrated by culture war hate campaigns,” Verona said. “In our band’s home, Wisconsin, political awareness is not a choice.”

“So while our song is a satirical parody for uplift and our band has an ethos of whimsical anarchy,” she said, “the seriousness of Wisconsin’s political climate and our precarious historical moment is the backdrop we are trying to find joy amidst.”

Evelyn Frick

Evelyn Frick (she/they) is a writer and associate editor at Hey Alma. She graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. In her spare time, she's a comedian and contributor for Reductress and The Onion.

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