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Thousands of pilgrims defy warnings to travel to Ukraine for Jewish new year

Thousands of orthodox Jews have travelled to a city in Ukraine for their traditional pilgrimage to mark Jewish new year, despite the danger of Russian rocket attacks and warnings to stay away.

As many as 23,000 worshippers are thought to have made their way to Uman to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, a revered 18th-century Hasidic leader.

The city of Uman, which came under fire from Russian artillery earlier in the war, is located around 160 miles northeast of the front lines around Kherson in the south where fierce fighting continues.

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The annual pilgrimage brings tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews to the city to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

Fewer devotees were expected to travel to Ukraine for this year’s kibbutz, or gathering, after the Russian invasion in February. Both Israeli and Ukrainian officials urged against making the trip.

Crowds of pilgrims nonetheless gathered in Uman on Sunday, the start of Rosh Hashanah and the first of the Jewish High Holy days.

More on Ukraine

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Uman, Ukraine September 25, 2022. An inscription on a reads:
Hasidic Jewish pilgrims near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Why do Jews travel to Uman?

The city is steeped in Jewish history. It was the site of a massacre of Jews, Poles and others during an uprising in 1768 and is also associated with prominent Hasidic figure Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

Born in the small town of Medzhybizh in Ukraine, he travelled to modern-day Israel and later returned to live in the Ukrainian town of Breslov.

He gained followers and encouraged them to strive to become tzadikim (righteous people) through devotion to God.

During his lifetime, thousands of Hasidic Jews travelled to Ukraine to be with him on Jewish holidays, particularly Rosh Hashanah.

The annual pilgrimage has continued since his death more than 200 years ago, though the flow of travellers to Uman was stopped after the Russian revolution of 1917.

Has the war stopped this year’s pilgrimage to Uman?

Israeli and Ukrainian authorities have issued stern warnings against travelling to Uman because of the war in Ukraine.

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

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

The danger of rocket attacks from Kremlin forces has not deterred thousands of pilgrims from making the trip, with some reports putting the number as high as 23,000.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Uman, Ukraine September 25, 2022. REUTERS/Vladyslav Musiienko

Chaim Kramer, a lecturer on Rabbi Nachman’s teachings, acknowledged the “reality of the current situation” and said it was up to each individual to do what they feel is right.

Nevertheless, speaking last month, he added: “At the moment, we’re at the height of preparations to help as many people as possible come and fulfill Rebbe Nachman’s words, to come for Rosh Hashanah.”


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