On the first night of Hanukkah in New York, families gathered at home, the Empire State building was lit up in blue and white, and the upstairs lounge at Therapy, a popular gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, was crowded with a bunch of less-than-fashionable Jewish-themed holiday sweaters.
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It was the second annual HanuCon, a festive gathering produced by Hebro, the gay Jewish social organization, meant as the Jewish equivalent to SantaCon, the rowdy goyish pub crawl where thousands of Saint Nicks stumble through the city. Jayson Littman, Hebro’s founder, surveyed the sold-out sea of nearly 300 men, Jewish and non-Jewish, snacking on, as well as avoiding, latkes. “We have a new crowd of people here,” he said. “A large theater crowd.”
That was because 15 members of the cast of the Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof,” currently in previews and opening on December 20, were en route to perform a few songs and light the menorah. It would be their last stop on a daylong marketing blitz to share Hanukkah joy with a broad spectrum of demographics across the city, including a senior citizen holiday party, a children’s gathering at Macy’s, and an afternoon matinee with a talk-back for guests of the United Jewish Federation. But the Hebro event was the most highly anticipated.
“These are my people,” said Jessica Vosk, who plays Fruma Sarah, the butcher’s dead wife, in the production. “I had to do this event. I love singing at every gay bar in the city. I love being a Yenta as well for my friends.” As the production’s understudy for the eponymous matchmaker, she was getting good practice. “I’ve already been walking around this party going, oh, he’s cute for this guy and this one’s cute for this guy.”
Since Littman established Hebro in 2008, he has become something of a Yenta for the gay Jews of New York himself. Rather than schedule gay events in the Jewish community, as many organizations do, his aim was to bring Jewish pride into gay spaces and give gay Jews an opportunity to find a Jewish match.
“When I come to a club I always say, ‘I need it to be light because it’s a husband-hunting crowd,’” he joked, but added that this isn’t his only goal. “It’s more about creating a community than creating a match. But the matches that happen are a huge plus.”
Participants and organizers felt "Fiddler" was a perfect match for a gay event.
After all, the musical is essentially a series of coming-out stories. Each of Tevye’s daughters, in turn, goes to her father and says: “This is who I love, and this is how I will live my life,” risking rejection in the process. It’s an experience that nearly everyone in the bar has had at some point. And for many, the fact that the new Broadway production chose to spend the first night of Hanukkah with them was an important mark of validation.
“It’s an acknowledgment that we’re a major part of the Jewish community,” said Scott Geller, one of the attendees. “We’re not on the fringe, we are with the mainstream.”
As the cast took the stage to perform “To Life, L’chayim” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” many in the audience, which spanned generations, could be seen singing along. The highlight, though, was a deliciously subversive rendition of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” in which the actors who portray the show’s suitors (all of them sporting scruffy beards) sang to Yenta to find them a handsome husband.
That was the idea of Adam Kantor, who plays Motel the Tailor, the childhood sweetheart of Tevye’s eldest daughter, Tzeitel. Kantor mused on the show’s theme of marriage in light of the rapid embrace of same-sex marriage in the United States since “Fiddler’s” last Broadway revival.
“The show deals with the question of how do you accept modernity while maintaining tradition and maintaining values that have been passed onto you from generations,“ he said. “Each daughter does something progressively more radical when it comes to marriage Tevye is left with this question, how can I accept? How can I bend so far without breaking? And I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to today, especially when it comes to marriage equality.”
In Shalom Aleichem’s stories, on which the musical is based, Tevye had seven daughters. The musical mentions five, of which only the first three have their romances dramatized. But given the political progression of marriage today, it’s clear to Kantor how the next daughter would challenge her father. If Tevye had another daughter, "she would be a lesbian.”
The original version of this story mistakenly headlined the article 'If Tevye Had a Fourth Daughter, She Would Be a Lesbian'. It was corrected on 21/12/15 to refer to 'another' daughter.