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Chaim Topol: Tevye the Dairyman, founder of year-round camp for sick children, Gemara student

חיים טופול

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Millions in Israel and around the world knew Chaim Topol on stage and screen as Tevye the Dairyman in Fiddler on the Roof. Here is a look at two other roles for which Topol, who passed away yesterday in Tel Aviv at the age of 87, is less well known.

The first role was that of co-founder of the Jordan River Village which runs a year-round camp for children with serious illnesses and disabilities in the lower Galilee. Topol took his cue from Paul Newman who had founded a similar camp in the United States. Topol raised tens of millions of dollars to establish the camp, which has thrived under his direction as its energetic and resourceful chairman of the board. "Children with chronic diseases come to us despondent and with bowed heads," Topol explained, "but after an hour and a half they are already laughing and singing and dancing. They reach higher levels of happiness than we, as healthy people, can ever reach. Why? Because any pain we feel is not nearly as great as theirs."

His second distinguished role was that of a Talmud (Gemara) student. Once he was asked how an actor with his talent, and at such an advanced age, subordinates his life to that of sick children. He said the answer is found in Gemara study. "It changes you and the life you live." It turns out that Topol learned Gemara with a study partner every week for more than forty years and nearly completed the entire Talmud. "Young people are only concerned with what is happening now," he once said. "They have no idea whatsoever of what was happening just a generation or two ago. The only vital, living culture that has survived for thousands of years is that of Torah Judaism and the Gemara. The fact that religious youngsters study it today exactly as it has been studied since it was first written is proof that there is something deeply compelling about it. For me, it is a source of continual revival and constant rejuvenation."

In his memory and for the speedy recovery of those wounded in the Tel Aviv terrorist attack.

Shabbat shalom.


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