Uman. Turning into trend among seculars too
Photo: Shai Rosenzweig
Every year, tens of thousands of Breslov Hasidim flock to the grave of their beloved Rebbe in the Ukrainian city of Uman. This year, however, the pilgrimage is expected to set an all-time record.
The reason for Rabbi Nachman's sudden burst of popularity was not generated between the walls of a remote Ukrainian place of Torah study, but in the Israeli Foreign Ministry of all places.
The number of participants is expected to grow significantly this year, thanks to a visa-free travel agreement signed between the Israeli and Ukrainian foreign ministries.
What do followers of Rabbi Nachman do upon discovery that some of his progeny are assimilated, married to gentiles across former Soviet Union? Launch a worldwide campaign, bribe clerks, priests – all in order to return lost daughters to Judaism
Organizers are expecting the number of pilgrims to double this year, reaching 50,000 this year – most of them Israelis.
"There is no doubt that the event will reach a peak this year," says Attorney Gilad Corinaldi, the Breslov Hasidic Dynasty's legal advisor.
'Out-of-this-world celebration' (Archive photo: Israel Bardugo)
The visa-free travel has removed a bureaucratic barrier and reduced travel prices by $70 per participant.
Several flights are expected to leave for the small Ukrainian town from Israel and 40 other countries as early as next week. At the same time, enough kosher products to feed all of the worshippers throughout the Jewish holiday will be flown in from the United States.
$600 for bed during holiday
Another reason for the anticipated onrush to Uman this year is the "Shuvu Bonim" community's decision to subsidize some of the passengers' trips.
More than NIS 8 million (about $2 million) have been raised at the instruction of Breslov Rabbi Eliezer Berland in order to pay half the ticket price of some 9,000 travelers.
In previous years, many of the Hasidim flew through Turkey in order to reduce the cost of the flight. This year, due to the escalating tensions between Israel and Turkey, the demand for these flights has dropped significantly.
Uman's residents are used to their city becoming a popular tourist site once a year. They take full advantage of the high demand for lodging and rent out almost every available bed for very high rates.
A bed in houses close to the gravesite on Pushkina Street will cost some $600 for the holiday. One night at a five-star hotel suite in Hawaii will cost about $519 during the same period. Many Hasidim choose to rent apartments 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away from the gravesite, where prices are much cheaper.
Last year saw several clashes between the Hasidim and local residents. This year, in order to maintain order, a special security force comprised of Breslov Hasidim who served in the army will arrive as well. Security cameras will also be placed on the site.
Artists flock to Uman tooThe tradition of visiting the Uman grave began following remarks made by Rabbi Nachman before his death, 201 years ago. Even in the Soviet Union era, before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hasidim would sneak into the gravesite.
The site was completely deserted at the time, and a local Ukrainian woman living nearby was in charge of guarding it.
Since the late 1980s, the pilgrimage to Uman turned into a trend which is no longer restricted to Hasidim and is popular among many groups in Israel. Seculars and many celebrities have been taking part in the pilgrimage as well.
The climax of the event will take place at noon on the eve of the Jewish New Year, when the huge crowd of worshippers will cite the general Tikkun prayer, which will be dedicated this year to kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and the residents of southern Israel.
"Those who can't make it will be missing an out-of-this-world celebration," promises Benny Mahlev, a Breslov Hasid. "This year everything will be even bigger."
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