uDespite warnings, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews have traveled to Ukraine in recent days to celebrate the New Year at the grave of an important Hasidic rabbi. Pilgrims came to Uman from many countries, most notably Israel and the United States. After the death of Rabbi Nachman of Breslow in 1810, the city, about 200 kilometers south of Kyiv, became a place of pilgrimage for his followers.
Rabbi Nachman is said to have promised divine intercession after their death to those who pray at his tomb during Rosh Hashanah. The two-day holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which marks the beginning of the year 5783 on the Jewish calendar, began Sunday evening and will continue through Tuesday.
In order to get to Uman, the pilgrims sometimes had to make considerable detours. While in previous years they could travel by plane to Kyiv and continue from there by taxi or bus, this year they had to enter by land from neighboring countries due to the Russian war of aggression and the closure of Ukrainian airspace. Some were on the road for more than 24 hours.
Authorities had advised against the trip
Because of the war, the Ukrainian, Israeli and American authorities had strongly advised against traveling to Uman. However, the Ukrainian government decided in mid-September not to close the borders to pilgrims. According to the Ukrainian Jewish community, more than 23,000 Orthodox Jews were in the central Ukrainian city on Sunday. In previous years there had been far more; last year, despite the corona pandemic, more than 35,000 Jews came.
Also this year the streets of Uman were packed with ultra-Orthodox Jews in traditional black and white robes. At noon on Sunday, crowds of people gathered around Rabbi Nachman’s tomb and said prayers that he had once chosen. There was singing and dancing in many places. According to media reports, the pilgrims were not even disturbed by siren alarms – some said they were used to that in Israel.
In mid-March, the Ukrainian government accused Russia of firing at Uman on the first day of the aggressive war; Moscow rejected this. There has been one fatality in the city so far during the war.
However, there are fears that disaster could strike if there is an attack during Rosh Hashanah. However, some of the pilgrims said they felt protected by Rabbi Nachman. He was a great-grandson of the founder of Hasidism, a mystical branch of Judaism that emerged in the 17th century.