Fiddler on the Roof, a record-breaking Broadway musical and subsequent movie adaptation, is a Jewish cultural touchstone — and also at the centre of a new antisemitic trend on TikTok. But to counteract an outpouring of offensive videos, Jewish creators are now reclaiming the trend, educating audiences about antisemitic tropes, and boosting other Jewish users on the app.
The trend combines an audio clip of "If I Were a Rich Man," one of Fiddler's most recognizable songs, and a popular Expressify filter that exaggerates facial expressions. Many creators have pointed out that the filter resembles the happy merchant, an antisemitic meme that gained traction among the alt-right and has been identified as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.
"When you combine a filter that makes you look like the Happy Merchant with a song that is very important to Jewish pop culture, what do you get?" one user asked. "Antisemitism."
Even worse, many of the jokes that utilize the trend relate back to money, wealth, and greed, which lean into other antisemitic stereotypes. And some users also appear to be mocking the singer's voice or use of the traditional Jewish vocal expressions. "This filter by itself? Perfectly fine. This song by itself? A perfectly wonderful song from a perfectly fun musical," said user Rynnstar. "But the trend of using that filter with this sound over the voice of a Jewish man singing is a problem."
Oftentimes, TikTok trends start to spread when sounds become linked to special effects or joke formats. Whenever you hear the opening notes of Gia Giudice's sad song from The Real Housewives of New Jersey, for example, you know you're about to see footage of someone's most embarrassing childhood memory. Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles," meanwhile, is now automatically associated with creators turning quotes, hate comments, and texts into inspirational quotes. The Fiddler song was posted on TikTok before the trend took off, and some of the earliest videos — shared around April 14 — didn't include the effect at all. But by April 22, many users were pairing the audio with the filter.
As The Forward noted, some creators were unaware of the song's origins and thought it was just a cover of Gwen Stefani's song "Rich Girl." (In actuality, Stefani's song, released in 2004, is a remake of a 1993 track of the same name. And the original "Rich Girl," of course, is an homage to the Fiddler song.) Some knew it came from the musical but had no idea that it had any cultural significance.
But this trope isn't new, even to this space: Antisemitism has been given space to thrive on TikTok for years. A recent study showed that antisemitic remarks and Holocaust denial theories comprised over a fifth of far-right TikToks made between February and May 2020. Months later, in July 2020, TikTok took down almost a hundred more videos that used an offensive song about the Holocaust.
"Before, I guess, I 'came out' as Jewish on my TikTok, before people knew, I was getting almost all positive response," one Jewish TikToker told NBC's Kalhan Rosenblatt in September. "And now, every single TikTok I've made since that video, I've received anti-Semitic comments, regardless of the content."
In an attempt to reclaim the Fiddler sound, Jewish creators are sharing their own videos and racking up tens of thousands of likes. In a few popular TikToks, users address their concerns with the trend. In others, they just ask viewers to interact with their videos in order to bump them to the "top" of the sound. But many videos are just joyful depictions of Jewish creators dancing, lip-synching, and even baking cupcakes — which is probably the sound's best trend yet.