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Holocaust, Violins and Fiddler on the Roof!
By Keith John Paul Horcasitas   

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Our son's interest in playing the violin, tied in to "Fiddler on the Roof," and the Jewish commemoration of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and High Holy Days. Other ties to the Jewish Faith per a friend, Howard, and Chris Aubert of Truth Matters. Taking a daily "faith-walk" with G_d for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual exercises and well-being.

Pic: JP @ Shaw Center, ~ 2004

Recently, the Baton Rouge Advocate has been listing an announcement for the annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest for elementary and high school students for the purpose of helping all of us increase our sensitivity for this issue and to be educated on tolerance, as well as to obtain a better understanding of the sanctity of life. This contest and a recent Re-Living Cana" Marriage Renewal Weekend that my wife and I attended gave me a flashback experience involving the Holocaust and violins.

Chris Aubert was one of the speakers at the Re-Living Cana gathering, and he shared some very poignant aspects to his own families experiences with the Holocaust. His Jewish father reportedly survived the concentration camps but only through being forced to play the death camp marches on his violin while the innocent victims were on their walks to the gas chambers or atrocities. These descriptions by Chris were hardly things that I could “pass-over,” and they gave rise to some family memories that tied in.

Last September, I was taking my daily walk around the neighborhood and heard a sound like a violin coming from the distance as the sun was setting – how beautiful the sunrise and the sunset can be! What a great time of solitude these walks can be to reflect on G-d's creation and search for ways to improve as a person to “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your G_d (Micah 6:8) ."

And then, I decided to call my friend Howard, a fellow social worker from New Orleans, to catch on things. Little did I know that Rosh Hashanah was beginning the following day, so Howard, a member of a Conservative Jewish Congregation, was looking forward to the High Holy Days. Maybe that was a shofar that I had heard earlier in the neighborhood?

Anyway, I wished Howard a Happy New Year! I know how important the Sabbath, Passover, the High Holy Days and many other festivals and traditions are to him just like there are such in my own faith-walk. Howard recounted to me how special these High Holy Days are for him and his family. That marked the second year since Saul, his father, had died and would not be with Howard and family for the traditional Judaic observances. Howard reminded me about Yom Kippur being a Day of Atonement, as well as the repentance, fasting and prayer that are central to that tradition.

So in updating Howard then about my new job and other family matters, I mentioned to him about JP, our 14 y/o, was still taking violin lessons with an LSU Graduate Student, Semina, who had begun teaching JP and his friend, Nicholas, about a 1 1/2 years ago. It was like da javu when JP asked then about getting a violin and taking lessons at LSU Academy of Music, where Lawrence, their former Cypress Heights Academy (CHA) Music Teacher, had recommended. Seven years ago, I recalled taking JP to the Shaw Center on a Saturday when they had some kind of free arts day for kids to get a first hand experience with things like musical instruments and crafts like pottery.

I remember the music instructor at the Shaw gathering just giving JP the violin to get a feel for the instrument and how to hold it. She couldn't believe how quickly JP had correctly positioned the violin under his chin and held the bow. I quickly took a picture of “the little maestro,” like I had done a little earlier at the function when he used the pottery wheel there to shape a little bowl. It just goes to show you, that you never know what some simple educational event can do to plant the seed for something that you may eventually develop as a talent for G-d.

So Howard was excited back then to hear about JP's interest in music and especially the violin. It dawned upon me right then and there that this was no coincidence for the timing of my call to Howard, the High Holy Days and JP's interest in the violin. I mentioned to Howard about our love of the movie, “Fiddler on the Roof,” and how I had begun a better appreciation of Judaism per the many times that I had watched that movie with our family.

We always got a kick of Tevye singing and dancing to “If I were a Rich Man,” which I thought I had to be in order to afford the price of a violin. Actually, I did some shopping around and we were able to get a very nice one locally for JP for $ 150. And while I didn't have to “marry off” as many daughters as Tevye did, I really loved the way he depicted dealing with the common struggles that we all share in life as an individual, a spouse or a parent, as well as with crossing over cultural boundaries that are part and parcel with the human condition. I still get goose bumps when I think of those great scenes from “The Bottle and Wedding Dances.”

Also, two summers ago, “Diary of a Young Woman,” about Anne Frank, was included in JP's summer reading requirements at CHA, so he got a deeper appreciation of what serious struggles that people of the Jewish faith have had to deal with for many years, as was so well depicted in the Fiddler movie. Even more poignant for JP was his opportunity that summer during the People to People European Tour he attended to actually go to the home where Anne Frank and her family stayed hiding in Amsterdam before getting caught.

So as we have begun a new Tradition of violin playing in our family, while I continue to pluck on my guitar strings, may we join Tevye and be ever attentive to listening for our own Fiddlers on the Roof in our lives – to tune in more to tolerance for our fellow man and respect for life. I look forward to reading some of the Advocate's selections from the contest in April right after Passover. All of them will bring me to tears as they intertwine Chris Aubert's violin memories that I learned at our “match-making” weekend gathering, Howard and his father's faithful impact on us per the Judeo-Christian heritage and JP's budding development in learning the “chords of life” on the violin strings that give rhythm to our lives both now and hereafter.

Keith John Paul Horcasits, LCSW, MHA, 1133 Knollhaven Drive, BRLA 70810,, February 26, 2012. 

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