“Someone should have set a match to this place years ago,” is what Shalom Aleichem’s character Tevia says in the musical Fiddler of the Roof (not written by Shalom Aleichem) when he and his family are ordered to pack up and leave the fictional village of Anatevka.
The real Anatevka is a small Jewish refugee village 20 miles west of Kiev (Kyiv) which was established in 2015 to host Jews who had been uprooted from their homes during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The project, headed by Ukraine Chief Rabbi Moshe Azman, purchased some 20 acres of land to establish the shelter’s compound.
Anatevka has an honorary mayor—who attracted the attention of the Bloomberg news agency: Rudolph William Louis Giuliani, mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001, whose popular performance in the face of the September 11, 2001 tragedy earned him the title “America’s Mayor.” These days, Giuliani also plays a major role in the House impeachment investigations, as President Trump’s private liaison to Ukraine.
According to Bloomberg, Giuliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have been indicted in the US for campaign law violations, were among the fundraisers who supported the establishment of the shelter village Anatevka.
But Bloomberg claims that Anatevka may not be so much a refuge for Jews but instead another Potemkin village. Apparently, what began as a shelter for Jewish refugees has evolved into a different project.
Back in May, The Jewish Press Online reported that Anatevka celebrated the opening of a new Community Rehab Center (New Community Center Opens in ‘Fiddler’s’ Anatevka). The center was funded by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC) and its President, Dr. Michael Mirilashvili, and Alexander Levin, Chair of the Kiev Jewish Community and EAJC Vice-President. Named Beit Shmuel, the center commemorates Alexander Levin’s brother, Shmuel, who tragically lost his life a few years ago.
Today, only some 20 of the residents in Antevka are the same Jews who fled the war in the east, out of a population of 100, according to the project’s leaders – more like 65 according to local residents. Those don’t live in Antevka, but are Jews from Kiev. Some 200 children attend the local school, but they are bused in from Kiev.
Antevka’s founder, Rabbi Azman, who is also the Rabbi of the Brodsky Synagogue in Kiev, declined Bloomberg’s requests for a comment. Bloomberg reports that visitors to the village are discouraged by guards in gray camouflage uniforms.
According to his Wikipedia page, Rabbi Azman, who comes from a Chabad family, served in the IDF in the 1990s. Chabadpedia says he is also the president of ZAKA in the Ukraine, and headed the Chernobyl Children Project in the former Soviet Union.
His reluctance to be interviewed by an American news agency makes perfect sense, seeing as he would naturally fear a spillover from the Trump investigations, which would needlessly harm his project. In retrospect, perhaps hitching his cart to Giuliani was a mistake.
But Tevia should put away his matches – Antevka is good for the Jews.