Chaim Topol Is More Than Tevye for Sick Jewish and Arab Children

Famed 'Fiddler on the Roof' Actor Works Wonders

Fiddler on the River: Chaim Topol with campers and volunteers from the Jordan River Village.
Courtesy of Jordan River Village
Fiddler on the River: Chaim Topol with campers and volunteers from the Jordan River Village.

By Paul Alster

Published April 07, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
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Later that day — after the land for the JRV had officially been granted — then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon formally dissolved the Likud government to create the Kadima Party. Suddenly, Topol understood Peres’s haste.

In 2012, the Grants stood alongside Topol at the official opening of the Jordan River Village. In a tragic twist, Murray Grant passed away on the flight home to the US the day after the opening ceremony. Newman didn’t live to see the project come to fruition; he passed away in 2008.

“Paul wanted to be here for the opening of our village, but unfortunately he had a prior engagement,” said Topol, glancing Tevye-like at the heavens.

Most of the doctors, specialists, and nurses working at the Jordan River Village donate their time to support and care for children who suffer from cancer, heart conditions, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy and HIV, among a wide variety of illnesses and conditions.

Topol described how an illness called thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder that primarily affects people of Arab descent, proved a factor in helping to integrate the Arab and Jewish contingents at the camp.

“We noticed that 80% of those registered for the group with thalassemia were Arabs, while the other 20% were Haredim,” he said. “We were worried that things might not work out, but when we called the Haredim to tell them they would be in a minority and be sharing the week with Arab patients, they said, ‘So what’s the problem? We see each other at clinics. We talk together all the time. We’re all friends.’”

The first thalassemia group was such a success that many local Arab medical professionals decided to join their Jewish counterparts and volunteer their time to support the project.

Topol spends as many as three days a week working at the village, splitting his time equally with the staff, the volunteers and the children.

Campers engage in a range of activities, from arts and crafts to horseback riding to swimming to camping out in a “Bedouin tent.” The village has Israel’s first handicap-accessible adventure course with a zip line, a climbing wall and a ropes course.


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