Calvary Christian Academy Middle School Theatre Teacher, Jennifer Pedraza, shares her journey with Judaism, Jesus, and her connection to the upcoming musical, Fiddler on the Roof Jr.
A Reflection of My Family
When I began the process of vetting shows for the school year, Fiddler on the Roof immediately came to mind. I’ve had a strong personal connection to this play since I was a young child. Based on the short stories by Sholem Aleichem, the Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of Tevye, a poor dairyman and his five daughters. Tevye tries to protect his daughters and instill in them traditional values in the face of changing social mores and the growing anti-Semitism of Czarist Russia in 1905. In many ways, I feel like the characters are telling the story of my family. Fleeing from anti-Semitic pogroms, violent riots against Jewish communities, my ancestors escaped Russia around the same time the play takes place in history. Growing up in a heavily Jewish area of Baltimore, I can immediately relate to the theme that tradition has played in my background.
I was raised in a Reform Jewish home, where I attended Hebrew school from Pre-K through 8th Grade. I always believed in God, but I spent much of my high school years questioning how I was raised. Fast forward to college, where I met my college sweetheart, David Pedraza, in the conservatory lounge of Shenandoah University. We quickly became inseparable and were united in many things. Except for our beliefs about Jesus. David became a Christian at age 6. I, on the other hand, was raised to believe that Jesus was just a prophet and the Jewish people still awaited the promised Messiah. A little over a year into our relationship, David presented me with a book with stories about Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, or Messianic Jews. I was furious. I remember venting to my grandmother about how my boyfriend was trying to "convert” me. Truthfully, I was secretly afraid of how I would be treated by my family if I accepted Jesus as my Savior.
Coming to a Crossroad
David was willing to love me regardless of my beliefs and continued to pray for me daily. Two months later, God started stirring up within me spiritual questions, struggles, and curiosities. After reading a popular Christian book, speaking with a Christian friend who orchestrated a meeting with a Jewish pastor, and reading literature about Jesus and Messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, I was at a crossroads. I could either accept Jesus, the Bible, and the plan of salvation completely, or not at all. Finally, I decided to put aside my fears of rejection and surrendered to God’s voice. I prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior, and I immediately experienced the Holy Spirit’s confirmation and revelation.
That was 15 years ago. It has been a wild journey since then and I am so grateful that the Lord is faithful! David, the college sweetheart that prayed for me and challenged my beliefs so many years ago, is now my husband. Together, we worship at Ayts Chayim (Tree of Life) Messianic Jewish Synagogue in Boca Raton.
Fiddler on the Roof
The story of Fiddler on the Roof forces people to ask the question, "What role do my beliefs play in my life?” Through this production, we are shedding light on what is “tradition” in our families and communities and what meaning those traditions hold for this generation. Ultimately, I hope the students involved walk away with a renewed ownership of their faith and a richer understanding of our common humanity. I want students to realize it is acceptable to ask questions in order to more deeply understand their faith, God, the world, and their purpose. I hope audiences will take time to examine the roles tradition and change play in their lives.