"When a hen starts to crow like a rooster, we take her away to be slaughtered," is a horrific quote from a short story written by Sholem Aleichem over a hundred years ago that inspired one of the most successful Broadway plays and perennial movie favorites, Fiddler on the Roof. This unlikely line also brought Lindsay Rothenberg and Fraidy Reiss together nearly one year ago.
Rothenberg is a great-great granddaughter of the author and a young filmmaker interested in Jewish and women's issues. Fraidy Reiss is the founder/ director of Unchained At Last, a non-profit organization, a kind of "freedom train" for helping women leave abusive arranged marriages from all walks of life.
When Fraidy's teenage daughter and volunteer social media director found Lindsay in the Twitter-verse last summer how could she know that the quote which emboldened her mother, held meaning for Lindsay, too? Now in the fundraising phase, the goal moving forward is for Lindsay to make a documentary called The Hen that Crows about Fraidy and her work.
A quick synopsis of the conflict at the center of Fiddler on the Roof may help readers understand its relevance to divorce and co-parenting. Three sisters from a poor family, each in succession from oldest to youngest, buck the tradition of arranged marriages using matchmakers.
The first daughter says no to the matchmaker, and her parents, even after a deal is closed with a prosperous older butcher, and chooses her own mate. The second bypasses the matchmaker altogether and chooses her age appropriate mate as well. The third marries outside the religion. Fraidy could be the fourth sister in this lineage, providing a way out for women previously disallowed by religious law to initiate divorce and have custody rights.
Old traditions die hard for various reasons and some don't ever die. Take matchmakers, for instance. In the modern version practiced today the bride and groom have much to say about whom they marry, midway between the first and second daughters in Fiddler in the Roof.
When a matchmaker's service works well it's as if these brokers speed up romantic destiny and personally escort lovers onto the super-highway of settling down. Caveat emptor, Latin for buyer beware: Less successful matchmakers may be pushy and wrong-headed go-betweens who match up two prospects who enhance each other's weaknesses until all manner of chaos breaks loose.
Fraidy admits with a chuckle that she might have been a difficult or harder to place and challenging candidate for the matchmakers in her community. In high school she began to push the limits of ultra-Orthodox modesty and fashion by daring to wear knee socks instead of tights under her long pleated skirt. In a round-about, counter-intuitive way, Fraidy's marriage -- which left her with two daughters she unequivocally adores -- left her better off in her evolution (painful at times) as a human being.
Ironically, in a Sholem Aleichem-like plot twist, it was Fraidy's bad marriage that helped her to uncover the courage to find satisfaction in her present-day life, but not without challenges. For nearly a decade, Fraidy and her children have been considered dead and shunned by her entire family. This is especially painful in regards to her beloved sisters. There is a rather minimal custody agreement played out mostly in kosher restaurants that could be improved upon.
So while something old, such as matchmaking, preserves the continuity of tradition; something new is divorce, which offers hope for renewal and optimism for the future. Something borrowed is found in the strength of a newly created self-determined community. Something blue is the sadness of loss gained through any struggle. And as the English version of the old rhyme goes, a six pence in your shoe for finding what you need along the way.