The JCC in Scarsdale was selected as one of the first venues in the U.S. to get the film rights to “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles.” The film was screened in mid-June, with a more widespread release slated for August, and attests to the high-caliber, cutting-edge arts and programming that Stephanie Risa Balkin, director of Arts & Talks and Adult Programming at the JCC of Mid-Westchester, and the JCC are known to produce. Balkin designed the evening to include a musical sing-along featuring “Engage in Song,” UJA’s volunteer Engage Jewish Service Corps, complete with song sheets and lyrics displayed on the large screen.
More than 120 people attended the showing, which included archival footage of original director-choreographer Jerome Robbins and interviews with Joel Grey, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chaim Topol, Harvey Fierstein, Fran Lebowitz, Calvin Trillin, Nathan Englander and other celebrities. The film, by Max Lewkowicz, also features interviews with “Fiddler” lyricist Sheldon Harnick and Harold Prince, the show’s original producer, as well as with original cast member Austin Pendleton. Co-written with Valerie Thomas, the films explores “Fiddler’s” numerous international productions and it’s attraction to world-wide audiences with its themes of changing times and younger generations seeking to establish their own identity.
Oscar and Tony Award winner Joel Grey, director of the critically acclaimed Yiddish version of Fiddler currently on Broadway, related a charming story of his Japanese friends who claim “Fiddler” is their favorite musical. Lin-Manuel Miranda shared footage of his wedding reception which featured, most incongruously, a rollicking production of the “bottle dance,” which Miranda remembered from seeing “Fiddler.” He wanted to surprise his bride and relatives with the over-the-top happiness of this famous song-and-dance routine by incorporating it into his own wedding festivities.
With rousing songs such as “To Life, to Life, L’Chaim!,” the audience joined members of Engage in Song singing “Fiddler” favorites. Balkin told The Jewish Link, “I invited Engage in Song to join us to add a musical aspect to the evening, to complement the film. The volunteer singers were a lovely and fun addition. People loved it!”
Engage in Song is part of UJA-Federation of New York’s Engage Jewish Service Corps, established for boomers and beyond “who want to effect powerful change within the Jewish community through hands-on activities. This new model of volunteering is perfect for the generation of game changers looking to reshape society at every stage of their lives.” Those who volunteer with Engage Jewish Service Corps get to use their skills, passion and leadership to address social issues in a way that fits one’s schedule and lifestyle.
Engage in Song is a collaboration of JCC Mid-Westchester and Scarsdale and Shames JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown. Debra Cerbini, Engage in Song manager and the Engage site coordinator for Engage Northern Westchester as well as a participant, explained that Engage in Song was started six years ago in response to volunteer interest. Cerbini loves to sing and has participated in community theater as well as High Holiday choirs. Deciding there must be others who were likewise motivated to sing and have fun, the call was put out seeking volunteers. There are currently almost 100 volunteers on the Engage in Song email list.
To Cerbini, “Engage in Song is the perfect way to celebrate song while bringing joy to others.” There are many memorable events that she recalls, but singing at the “Fiddler” sing-along was outstanding. “Singing those wonderful songs after watching the moving documentary was very special to our group. It was a beautiful and very successful evening with many shiny eyes throughout the auditorium.”
Balkin reported that an important sponsor for the evening’s event was The Kensington, an assisted living residence in White Plains. She urged people to look for upcoming Arts & Talks programs beginning in the fall by visiting www.jccmw.org/arts-talks.
By Yvette Finkelstein