Hasidic Pilgrimage to Uman: Why do the Jews go to Ukraine?

Author : Serhiy Zvihlyanych

Source : 112 Ukraine

This year, over 30 thousand pilgrims from around the world areexpected visit to Uman in order to celebrate 5777th New Year
23:21, 30 September 2016

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Every year in September, the traditional peace and regularity in Uman changes with the noise and fun - Hasidic pilgrims flock to the city. Uman is a small town in Cherkasy region, which is known far beyond Ukraine. This is the place of one of the most revered shrines, the place of annual pilgrimage.


Tomb of Rabbi Nachman Rebbe of Bretslov in Uman city attracts tens of thousands of supporters of Hasidism. They believe this is their duty to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman at least once in their lives. They also believe that if they meet New Year Rosh Hashanah near his grave, the next year will be very happy for them.

Related: Hasidic campers were attacked in Uman on the eve of Rosh Hashana

Who is Rabbi Nachman, and what is Hasidism?

Hasidism (translated as "righteousness") is a kind of offshoot of Judaism, which originated in Poland in the 17th century and quickly engulfed a large area that includes almost all of Ukraine. The founder of Hasidism is believed to Besht rabbi who lived on the territory of modern Khmelnytsky region. He created his own doctrine, according to which religious ecstasy is above all, not the Talmud. The fact that illiterate Jew can be closer to God than the most skillful scientist, people began to like very quickly, and the Hasidic movement exceeded the number of classical Jews.

Hasidism rejected all rituals and even visiting the synagogue. Teaching was not the same, as Hasidic split into numerous groups, each with slightly different interpretation of their faith. Rabbis in Hasidism remained as intermediaries between God and mortals. These people were called Rabbi. One of them became Nachman of Bretslov, the founder of Bretslov Hasidism. Nachman was the great-grandson of the founder of the Hasidic faith Besht.

Related: Russia v. Hasidim in a rare religious Hasidic books rivalry

Future Rabbi Nachman was born in 1772. The boy initially was to be a rabbi. He often prayed, but tried to do it in this forest, near the river or in the field.

According to Jewish tradition, the Jewish child reaches the age of majority after the 13th birthday, and got a right to marry. At the age of 14, Nachman got married with the daughter of a wealthy landowner from Husiatyn. When the father-in-law died, Nachman moved to Medvedivka town and ordained Rabbi. Here, in Medvedivka, Rabbi Nachman begins to preach his new ideas. Local Jews quickly imbued with understanding the sermons of the young Rabbi and soon chose him as their rabbi - a teacher. Rabbi Nachman preached that prayer should not be depressing, it must be mixed with dances, songs and fun. In addition, Rabbi Nachman recommended to pray "from the heart" in native Yiddish, not in Hebrew, as is customary in classical Judaism. Based on these theses Bretslov Hasidim was formed.

Related: 30,000 Hasids to visit Ukraine to celebrate Rosh Hashanah

Despite the respectable status, Rabbi Nachman lived quite modestly, without picking up a save. After visiting Israel, Rabbi Nachman has been studying Kabbalah and meeting with the most renowned theologians of the time. Nachman and returned home, settled in Nemyriv, and began preaching Hasidism among his many students. Once, being in Uman, he visited the Jewish cemetery where many victims were buried in the Jewish pogroms during Koliivshchyna times. Rabbi Nachman expressed a desire to be buried here.


The last years of Rabbi Nachman were misery: two of his children and a wife died of tuberculosis in the same year. House of Bretslov Rabbi was burned to the ground in 1810, and then Nachman went to live in Uman. The last sermon of Rabbi Nachman was timed for the New Year on the Jewish calendar, in which he commanded his followers to come to his grave in Uman. A month later, Rabbi Nachman died.

In Soviet times, the Jewish cemetery in Uman, where Rabbi Nachman was buried, was given to the gardens. The very burial was not destroyed, but the pilgrims were not allowed to visit it. Synagogue of Rabbi was destroyed. And most Hasidim had hard times in those days: they were repressed, they died in the war, and were forced to emigrate from the country.

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A few pilgrims visited the grave of Nahman in 1988. After 1991 this place were regularly visited by Hasidim from around the world. The situation improved in 1994. Here was built one of the largest synagogues, hotel and mikvah, and organized an international center of Bretslov Hasidim.


Hasidim come to Uman with their children. Some Hasidim usually come several times in life, some do it annually. It all depends primarily on the financial capacity of visitors.

The first pilgrims begin to arrive in Uman during the week before Rosh Hashanah. Usually, these are  it with rich Hasidim who can afford to stay in Uman one week.

Related: Over 19,000 Hasid pilgrims arrived to Ukraine to celebrate Rosh Hashanah

The mass pilgrimage starts in about 4 days before the New Year holidays. Hasidic Jews arrive by bus from Odesa and Kyiv airports during these 4 days. Buses arrive to the Chelyuskintsiv street, where is a kind of checkpoint. This place is heavily guarded by the police that check the documents and presence of forbidden things. The locals who want to earn money also come here. They offer Hasidim transportation of luggage, apartments or houses. Prices in the city, of course, grow up these days several times.

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At the checkpoint there are also representatives of Jewish organizations who organize their visit to Uman. They hold records of visitors and help members of the security forces with translation from Russian to Hebrew.

Housing prices vary by the apartments location and living conditions. The most expensive housing is apartments in multi-storey buildings, which are located directly next to the grave of Rabbi Nachman or synagogue.

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It should be noted that the apartments over the fifth floors also are much cheaper, even if the house is near the grave or synagogue. Indeed, during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah Hasidim are not allowed to use all the achievements of civilization, including an elevator.

Related: Petro Poroshenko congratulated Ukrainian Jewish on Passover

The problem is the inconvenience Hasidim route. They arrive in Kyiv and Odesa airports, and move to Uman by bus. Because of this, they spend more time and money on travel. Another problem is accommodation for pilgrims in Uman. The hotel Shearim Zion cannot accommodate all comers.

Another issue connected with the pilgrimage of Hasidim is pollution. Indeed, residents of Israel are strictly prohibited from littering; they pay heavy fines for this. Arriving in Ukraine, where the laws are not so scrupulous, Jews allow themselves to litter anywhere. During the New Year celebrations city services just do not have time to clean up city streets. In addition Hasidic organization that organizes the pilgrimage to Uman, hires local people to ensure that they cleaned the streets.

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Over 30 thousand are expected visit to Uman this year. Pilgrims from around the world are to traditionally loudly celebrate 5777th New Year.

Related: Rivlin: Ukrainians involved in murders and prosecutions of Jews during WWII

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