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Ukraine warns Hasidic Jews against Uman pilgrimage amid Russian invasion

But 1,000 pilgrims have already arrived, thousands more expected; some Israelis shrug off war dangers, saying it’s no different from home

Jewish men in the street near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in Uman, on eve of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Jewish men in the street near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, on eve of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

KYIV — Ukraine on Tuesday urged Hasidic Jewish pilgrims traveling to the war-torn country to skip their annual pilgrimage to the city of Uman this year because of the Russian invasion.

Every year, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims come to Uman from all around the world to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nachman for Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year, celebrated this year between September 25 and 27.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) was the founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement that settled in Uman in the early 1800s.

“When the echoes of the Russian enemy explosions on Ukraine don’t stop, we must take care of ourselves,” the Ukrainian embassy in Israel said in a Facebook post.

“Please, avoid coming to Uman on Rosh Hashanah and pray that peace will return to Ukraine and the blessed pilgrimage will be renewed,” the embassy said.

Last week Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a similar warning, imploring pilgrims to not make the journey due to a “real and immediate risk to lives.”

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office also urged citizens “not to go to the city of Uman during the upcoming Jewish holidays in light of the life-threatening danger posed by entering the combat area.”

Despite the war, more than a thousand worshippers have already arrived in the city.

Uman, in central Ukraine, is relatively far away from the frontline, but it has been hit several times by Russian strikes, according to regional governor Igor Taburets, cited by Interfax-Ukraine.

Local authorities are expecting more than 10,000 pilgrims, according to the governor.

“They say that there is a de-facto permanent war in Israel and that they’re used to it,” Taburets said.

Plans have been made for “additional restrictions” in the city already under curfew.

They include a ban on street vending and public gatherings because of the “high risk of a terrorist attack,” Taburets said.

“We know how sly our enemy is. Any public gathering is potentially vulnerable,” he added.

Russia in March accused Ukraine of using a synagogue in Uman for military purposes, including storing military supplies there.

The accusations were vehemently rejected by the local Jewish community and Kyiv.

Rabbi Nachman is one of the main figures of Hasidic Judaism, a mystical movement that appeared in the 18th century and flourished in places like Poland and Ukraine.

Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Nachman, who promised that he would “save [worshipers] from hell” if they came to visit his tomb on Rosh Hashanah.

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