While living in Russia, Anya Antopolsky started searching for her religious roots and became more connected to her faith. As she became more committed, she realized that Israel was her homeland, and 12 years ago she left Moscow and moved to Israel.
It was important to Anya to find a community in Israel where secular and religious people live together. “I come from a secular background and I wanted my old friends and family to feel comfortable when they visited me. And I wanted my children to be open-minded, to learn to love all Jews, observant or not!” She fell in love with Nokdim, a mixed community built on tolerance. Nokdim, located in Gush Etzion, was founded 20 years ago and boasts a broad cross section of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, France, Spain, Argentina, Italy, and the U.S., as well as veteran Israelis. Nokdim is a prime example of how a community based on differences in background and religious belief can succeed in breaking down long-standing barriers in Israeli society.
Back in 2005, when talk began of uprooting the communities of Gush Katif and northern Samaria, Anya and her husband took their five children and moved into tents in one of the Samaria communities. She looked around at the other families, there to show their support, and she wondered: “Are there only religious Jews in Israel? Where are the Russians? Don’t they care?”
Anya discovered that many Russians are staunch supporters of the settlement movement and are vehemently against giving away pieces of the land. But the Russian-speaking Jews of Israel came to Israel after decades of separation from Judaism. Many remain disconnected from their roots and are unfamiliar with Jewish tradition and the history and geography of their people. She and her friend, Masha Zbolinsky decided something must be done to educate, to open the eyes of this population, and in 2007 Meeting Place was born.
Meeting Place encourages a meeting of minds, hearts and souls, among the Russian Jews in Israel. Anya believes in focusing on their strong ties with the land and their heritage, and in promoting acceptance through knowledge. “I believe that Meeting Place is so successful because of our broadmindedness.”
“Thousands of people have joined Meeting Place’s guided tours in Judea and Samaria, which educate participants about the settlement movement.” The goal is to reach out to peripheral, low-income Russian-speaking communities that often suffer from cultural isolation and are not connected to Jewish or Israeli life. Efforts are also directed at Russian-speaking tourists of all faiths or of no faith, to encourage a refocus from considering Israel as a vacation spot, to seeing Israel as an opportunity for spiritual rebirth.
Meeting Place also established Russian speaking educational centers where religious and seculars meet and study together. “It ’s a joy to see heads bent over the volumes of Talmud, as the rabbi reads aloud Aramaic texts of old and translates the words into Russian.” There are also courses in the Torah Portion of the Week and Hasidic Judaism. “There is a thirst to learn, and new classes keep opening up in cities all over Israel.”
Anya’s relationship with Christians began eight years ago, when fruit trees arrived for all the families of Nokdim, from Christians who love Israel. “For the first time I realized that there are Christians who support us in our right to live in the Biblical Heartland!” Two years ago, Anya started meeting groups from CFOIC Heartland. “I saw their interest, I heard their questions and I felt their love.” Her fig and nut trees have grown to provide both shade outside her home and a constant reminder to her, of Israel’s Ch