Pilgrims despite the danger of war - politics

The first are here. At the beginning of the week, an estimated 2,000 devout Jews arrived in the small Ukrainian town of Uman, and by the end of the week there should be at least 10,000. Sunday marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and for followers of Rabbi Nachman of Brazlaw, who died in 1810, this is the time for the annual pilgrimage to his grave. That the Ukraine being a war zone doesn't stop them. Warnings are ignored.

The tomb is like a magnet for the Nachman disciples. Those who make a pilgrimage there are promised spiritual healing. The rabbi is regarded as an important Hasidic scholar, as a great mystic who bequeathed to his followers the joy of prayer, rather loud music and ecstatic dancing. The pilgrimage to Uman is therefore a huge happening every year, removed from earthly reality.

In the pre-Corona times, up to 50,000 visitors were regularly counted, mostly from Israel, but also from the USA and other countries. In 2020, pilgrims made headlines amid the pandemic, as thousands defied travel restrictions and were stranded in the border area between Belarus and Ukraine. In 2021 there was trouble because many in Uman had contracted the corona virus and quite a few tried to get back to Israel with fake test results.

War followed the plague. Uman - located in central Ukraine about halfway between Kyiv and Odessa - is a long way from the current fronts. However, in the early days of the Russian invasion, the city had been hit hard by Russian rocket and artillery fire, and there have been isolated hits reported in more recent times.

In addition, the pilgrimage seems suitable in advance for a propaganda battle. In Moscow, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry said the synagogue in Uman was being used as a weapons store. A spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy then warned on Israeli television that Russian attacks would target the pilgrims in order to trigger a "worldwide shock". Finally, in Moscow, this was described as "absurd false news" and accused Ukraine of planning an "anti-Russian provocation".

The situation is at least opaque, which is why the Israeli Foreign Ministry has been warning of an "explosive security situation" since the beginning of September and is urging people to avoid Uman this year. The Ukrainian government has followed suit. The Ambassador of Kiev to Israel called on Rabbi Nachman followers to stay at home and pray for a speedy end to the war and a victory for Ukraine.

At least the hard core of the pilgrims are obviously not impressed by this. After all, they argue, there are also wars in Israel, as well as the newspaper hairnet quotes the Jerusalem Rabbi Chaim Kramer with a rather fatalistic saying: "If your name is on a bullet, then you will be hit. If not, then not."

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