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Among the volunteers are Arab Israelis doing national service and Jewish Israelis volunteering before they join the army. On a recent visit to the camp, Bassell Halil, an 18-year-old Arab from the Galilee village of Gush Halav, and Tomi Vardi, a 23-year-old Jewish volunteer from Binyamina, were leading a group of diabetic kids when Topol stopped to join them at the climbing wall.
“I’m here on national service,” said Bassell. “We spend time learning about the conditions before the children arrive. What joins us together is the illness, not race or religion. No one cares if you’re Jewish or Arab, but we do chat together and learn a lot about each other’s cultures.”
Tomi added, “I worked in a youth center and then heard about the JRV project. When I came to look around and saw what is going on here, I so wanted to be a part of it.”
Topol is looking forward to the opening of a theater on site, at which he will give the first performance. He intends to be a central figure in the ongoing development of the village, and in its efforts to continue to raise funds both in Israel and overseas. A minimum of $4 million a year is needed to maintain and expand the services.
So, at a time in life when many people are taking it easy, might he return to the international stage, once more in the role of Tevye?
“Thank God I’m in good health” he smiles. “It’s hard work. Well, it is, the way I do it! People [play Tevye] different ways, but I try not to do anything different to when I was a younger man. People come up to me and often compare my performances, say in 1975, with what they’ve just seen.”
He glances across the village and with another half wink, adds, “Thankfully, until now, I’m still getting good reviews!”
Paul Alster is a broadcast journalist based in Israel. His website is www.paulalster.com