US joins warning against Uman Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage amid Russian invasion

Embassy in Jerusalem recommends that pilgrims who ignore advice make a will before they leave, and arrange a contingency plan not including US assistance

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)
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)

The United States has joined Israel and Ukraine in warning Jewish pilgrims against traveling to Uman for an annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage due to the Russian invasion.

Under the headline “Do not travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah,” the US Embassy in Jerusalem said Wednesday it was “repeating this important message from the US Embassy in Kyiv for your information and preparedness. We strongly support Embassy Kyiv’s warning against travel to Ukraine for any purpose.”

The embassy said that if an individual chose to disregard the warning, it recommends a number of steps be taken before travel to Ukraine, including drafting a will and having a contingency plan in place that does not rely on US government assistance.

Every year, tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims, mainly Hasidim, visit 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.

Ukraine on Tuesday urged Jewish pilgrims against making the trip.

“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.

People walk outside the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, in the city of Uman, in central Ukraine, January 26, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

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

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office 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, worshipers have already begun to arrive in Uman.

Read more: In Ukraine’s Uman, locals predict war won’t keep all Jewish pilgrims away

The city, 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.

Jewish pilgrims gather in front of Ukrainian border guards at the checkpoint Novaya Guta near Novaya Guta, Belarus, Sept. 18, 2020 (AP Photo)

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

In 2020, many pilgrims were stranded in neighboring Belarus and Moldova after they were prevented from entering Ukraine due to pandemic restrictions.

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

He 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 the rabbi, who promised that he would “save [worshipers] from hell” if they came to visit his tomb on Rosh Hashanah.

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