US Hasidic Jews reportedly detained in Ukraine for vandalizing Jesus statue

Pilgrims from Bratslav sect filmed destroying sculpture’s arm and leg; locals then throw firebomb near Jews’ homes; community says it will ‘bribe’ authorities to release suspects

Hasidic Jews vandalizing a statue of Jesus in Uman, Ukraine, in January 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Hasidic Jews vandalizing a statue of Jesus in Uman, Ukraine, in January 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Ten Hasidic Jews, said to be US nationals, were detained recently by Ukrainian authorities after they were recorded vandalizing a crucifix in the city of Uman, according to an Israeli television report.

In response, a group of Ukrainian locals on Saturday threw firebombs on a street where many local Jews live, causing no injuries, Channel 13 reported Sunday. The report did not specify whether the suspects in the firebombing were arrested.

The group of Brastlav Hasidim was caught on security camera footage walking through thick snow toward a sculpture of Jesus nailed to a cross, severing the statue’s arm and leg and knocking it to the ground before fleeing.

Uman is famous for being the burial place of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, an 18th-century Hasidic leader, and tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews visit the place every year on Rosh Hashanah, the new Jewish year, for a massive pilgrimage. Many also visit at other times of the year.

Avraham Tobol, a Bratslav Hasid who has lived in Uman for years, told Channel 13 that it was the third time such an incident occurred. He said that each time,  tourists, rather than members of the local community, were the culprits.

“This time they are tourists from the United States,” Tobol said. “They aren’t from the community, or else we would disassociate ourselves from them. Uman has long become a place where you can’t control who comes and leaves.”

Illustrative: Hasidic pilgrims praying near the burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav in Uman, Ukraine, September 14, 2015. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images via JTA)

He said that five of the 10 detained men have been released following their questioning, adding that a Jewish businessman named David Rappaport was attempting to secure the release of the rest.

“Two people have expressed regret and agreed to pay damages and compensation,” Tobol said.

Channel 13 also quoted an unidentified member of the Hasidic community in Uman saying it would release the suspects by bribing authorities.

“There are 10 detainees. The rest will probably be freed, and only whoever took down the statue will remain. However, we will pay bribes and it will be okay. That is how things work around here,” he said.

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