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Chasidim Converge on Grave in Ukraine for New Year’s Rite

September 17, 1996
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Following a tradition that dates back to the beginning of the last century, some 8,000 Chasidic pilgrims made their way last week to the small Ukrainian town of Uman to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav at Rosh Hashanah.

Seeking the fruits of a deathbed promise their leader made, members of the Bratslaver Chasidic sect from the United States and Israel converge annually on Uman, a city of about 50,000 halfway between Kiev and Odessa.

Rabbi Nachman, who was born in 1772 and the founder of Bratslaver Chasidism, became famous for his teachings and mystical interpretations of Jewish texts.

A great-grandson of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, Rabbi Nachman emerged as one of the leading figures of the burgeoning Chasidic movement.

Suffering from tuberculosis, Rabbi Nachman moved to Uman to be near the mass grave of the Jews of Uman, who were forced to choose between conversion or death during the Chmielnicki revolt and massacres of 1648-49.

According to his wishes, when he died in 1810, Rabbi Nachman was buried among the 20,000 martyrs of the Haidamak persecutions in the 18th century, which were more limited in scope than the Chmielnicki massacres, but even more terrible in their cruelty.

On his deathbed, he promised his followers that he would personally intercede on behalf of anyone who visited him, saying that he would lift them out of hell by their peyos, or earlocks.

Since then, his followers have returned to Uman every year on Rosh Hashanah to pray, sing and dance at his grave. He remains the only leader, or rebbe, that the Bratslav Chasidim have ever had.

The pilgrimage to Uman has become such a central event for Bratslaver Chasidim that a small international uproar broke out in 1993 when then-Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk agreed to a request from then-Israeli President Chaim Herzog to transfer Nachman’s remains to Israel.

Both the Israeli and Ukrainian presidents, who thought they would be doing the Chasidim a favor, dropped the idea after they were besieged by protests from the group, who insisted that the remains stay in Uman.

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