DESPITE RUSSIAN WAR: Tens of thousands of Jews from around world head to Ukraine for Rosh Hashana

Ukrainian warnings that the Rosh Hashana visitors cannot be properly protected fall on deaf ears.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims from around the world are heading to a Hasidic pilgrimage site in Uman, Ukraine, despite the country’s ongoing war with Russia and subsequent warnings that their safety cannot be assured.

Rabbi Nachman, the founder and only leader the Breslov Hasidic sect has ever had, is buried in Uman in central Ukraine.

Ever since the fall of the Iron Curtain and Ukraine declared its independence, myriads of Hasidim as well as other Orthodox and even non-Orthodox Jews have gone to pray at his tomb every year for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year that begins Friday night.

The local economy is largely dependent on this mass annual pilgrimage, but military administration officials in the region where Uman is located urged Jews already in August not to come due to the danger of Russian shelling.

The small city has been occasionally targeted by Russian forces, which invaded Ukraine in February 2022 in what Moscow calls an attempt to “denazify” their neighbor, which Western powers have declared a naked land grab. A missile strike in April hit a local apartment building, killing more than 20 Ukrainian civilians.

Read  Majority of likely US voters view Netanyahu favorably

Uman is located between Kyiv, the capital that has been relatively calm, and the southern region that Ukrainian forces are trying to take back from the Russians.

Visitors are not allowed to fly into Ukraine directly due to the fighting, so the pilgrims are landing in neighboring countries to cross the border and then continue their journey in cars and buses.

The lengthy travel arrangements have not deterred the faithful. Sixteen flights to Moldova took off from Israel on Tuesday night alone, according to a Kan news report.

Local authorities have said that some 11,000 pilgrims have already made it into the city, which has set up nine checkpoints to control the flow of people into and out of town. Regional head Igor Taburets said that the nightly curfew of midnight to 4AM would also remain in place due to safety concerns.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked that Israelis refrain from traveling to Uman, saying, “Israeli citizens traveling to Ukraine must be personally responsible.” In Israel, he added, “when rockets fall, civilians go into shelters and there are protections, [but in Ukraine] there are no shelters and no protections.”

In saying this, he was echoing Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk, who said in August that “we are unable to vouch for” the security of so many pilgrims.

At the time, Korniychuk was castigating Jerusalem for not agreeing to send his country anti-missile defense systems, and he added, “If Israel doesn’t want to help protect Ukrainians, perhaps it would like to protect its citizens?”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also threatened that month to shut his borders to the Jewish tourists. He had been upset at reports that Ukrainians entering Israel were being mistreated, a claim that Interior Minister Moshe Arbel strongly denied.

Last year, seven months into the war, some 23,000 Hasidim ignored strenuous Ukrainian calls to stay away and came to Uman despite great hardships at the various land borders. Some were even stranded at checkpoints and never reached their destination.