September 20, 2023

Pilgrimage Under Shelling: "Shana Tova" From Uman


Pilgrimage Under Shelling: "Shana Tova" From Uman
Hassidic Jews celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Uman, Ukraine. Liz Cookman, Twitter.

At nightfall on September 15, families worldwide sweetened apples with honey to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 35,000 Hassidic Jews pilgrimaged to Uman, Ukraine, to celebrate this holiday at Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's grave.

Every Rosh Hashanah since Rabbi Nachman died in 1810, male followers visit his grave in Uman to celebrate one of the most important holidays in Judaism. Even during the Soviet era, when overt displays of religion were forbidden, Hassidic Jews carried out the pilgrimage in secret, without public displays of prayer.

In 2022 and 2023, the Israeli and U.S. governments advised followers against traveling to Ukraine because of safety concerns, but packed buses still flocked to the city. Uman's street signs were changed from Ukrainian to Hebrew. Social media users posted videos of pilgrims dancing and singing in the city. Believers held a public prayer for Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials set up checkpoints across the city, and extra security measures were enhanced to protect the pilgrims. The Israeli police also participated in security efforts. Yet, according to The Times of Israel, in a meeting with Ukraine's rabbis, President Volodymyr Zelensky said: "I will try to take care of Israelis on their way to Uman. But if Israel were to send [the] Iron Dome, there would be a way to protect those Israelis." 

The festival did not come without inconveniences. One Israeli citizen was arrested after colliding with another car and killing a Ukrainian citizen. Four other Israelis were detained at a checkpoint for cannabis possession.

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