One of the trips I have been most excited to take came on the first morning of my visit to Ukraine. I was picked up this morning at my hotel by Yossy Azman, the son of Rabbi Moshe Azman, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine. Rabbi Moshe had planned to pick me up, but was called to Israel at the last moment for a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu. Rabbi Moshe and I hope to meet tomorrow. (The flight from Kiev to Israel is only three hours.)
When I first decided to travel to Ukraine, I googled "Where was Anatevka supposed to be?" knowing that the Anatevka in "Fiddler on the Roof" is a fictional location. It was then that I was surprised to learn of the Anatevka Project, the brainchild of Rabbi Azman to build a refugee village outside of Kiev for Jews fleeing war torn eastern Ukraine.
With little money for the project, he purchased a large plot of land approximately 20 minutes outside Kiev in a town called Hnativka, as close sounding to Anatevka as one could find.
Rabbi Azman's master plan, of which I was given a beautiful poster, includes building homes for 500 residents, in addition to all the makings of a modern day shtetl. With meager funds but absolute determination, the project, launched in 2015, already includes housing for Anatevka's 100 current residents, a synagogue with a mikvah, a manufacturing facility for wood working, and a beautiful school with 180 students, many of them children who travel each day back and forth from Kiev for a high quality Jewish and secular education.
I particularly loved the name of the school - Mitzvah 613, and the wonderful adornments throughout the classrooms created right in the wood working facility.
With many Jews who have fleed the conflict in eastern Ukraine stilll looking for homes, and more coming with each day, Rabbi Azman is committed to continue building, often breaking ground first and finding the funds later. Yossy told me that amazingly the school was built in only four months. And currently under construction is a rehabilitation facility for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
I had the chance to speak with the village's expert woodworker, a refugee who told me (through Yossy's translation) that his life would never have been the same without the Anatevka project.
And, of course, the Fiddler on the Roof connection is not lost on Rabbi Azman - in the middle of the modern day shtetl, a weather vane of a fiddler...on a roof. And he's created a great promotional video using familiar tunes from the musical.
I look forward to highlighting this amazing and moving project as part of our community's own Fiddler on the Roof event on December 3.
Anatevka, dear little village, little town of mine.