JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli yeshiva student drowned on a pilgrimage to the grave of a Chasidic rabbi in the central Ukrainian city of Uman.
Eli Eliah, 19, drowned on Sept. 29, the first day of Rosh Hashanah, before the traditional Tashlich ceremony in a river that runs through the city, according to reports. Some reports said that he was immersing himself in the water to take a ritual bath before the ceremony, which is said to symbolically carry away one’s sins.
Some 32,000 Jews visited the grave of Reb Nachman of Bratslav, the founder and spiritual leader of the Bratslav Chasidic movement, in Uman this year to celebrate the Jewish New Year in an annual rite.
The Israel-based ZAKA Rescue and Recovery Organization, which was on call for medical emergencies in Uman, said in a news release that it attempted to resuscitate Eliah after one of the pilgrims, a former Israeli Navy SEAL, pulled the body from the icy water. ZAKA said it had tried for an hour to find the missing man.
The organization was working Sunday to have the body released for burial in Israel and to prevent an autopsy, which is against religious Jewish law.
Thousands of Jews from around the world flock to Uman each year to visit the grave of Reb Nachman, who was born in the city of Medzhybizh in 1772 and died in 1810 in Uman, which has become a mecca for Bratslavers, particularly on Rosh Hashanah.
Last year a 19-year-old Israeli yeshiva student was stabbed to death during a brawl during the pilgrimage.