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Anorak | The Hasidic Pilgrimage to Uman, Ukraine: Hippy Jews And Local Nazis

The Hasidic Pilgrimage to Uman, Ukraine: Hippy Jews And Local Nazis

by | 25th, September 2011

TO Ukraine, where the anti-Semites of the local nationalist party Svoboda (trans. Liberty) have been protesting against the imminent arrival of Hassidic Jews in the town of Uman, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Ukraine’s capital Kiev. Some 35,000 Hasidic Jews from around the world are expected in Uman next week to mark the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashana, at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect.

( Most of Ukraine’s 1.5 million Jews wiped out by the Nazis.)

The pilgrimage is a huge deal.

Menachem Kaiser notes :

Nachman’s disciples have been traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah since he died in 1810, though the pilgrimage has boomed in recent years. The Nazis decimated the Breslov movement, and in the years that followed, the few remaining Hasidim were consistently denied visas by Communist authorities. A handful managed to sneak through, but the torrent only really began once the Iron Curtain fell.

The holiday wear is as exotic as it is varied: fur shtreimels, gold caftans, white robes with matching knee socks, turquoise turbans, silk-engraved bekishes, neon ponchos with tzitzit. At the kloyz, the big synagogue, it was well beyond standing room only—and these people do not pray standing still. They shake, swing, jump. Sporadically, people clap or yell.

Rabbi Nachman was all for happiness :

Long ago, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov had recognized Simcha as the key to success in religion and coming truly close to HaShem. In stressing the importance of Simcha he went so far as saying that depression the antithesis of Simcha constitutes “the main bite of the serpent (the Yetzer Harah)”. How far should a person struggle to remain steadfast and avoid depression? The lesson is best illustrated by the following story Rabbi Nachman told to his disciples:

“But what is the antidote for the person who feels so heavy, so depressed, that no words of encouragement or advice have any effect?”

There was once a poor man who earned a living digging clay and selling it. Once, while digging clay, he discovered a precious stone which was obviously worth a great deal. Since he had no idea of it’s worth, he took it to an expert to tell him its value. The expert answered, “No one here will be able to afford such a stone. Go to London, the capital, and there you will be able to sell it.” The man was so poor that he could not afford to make the journey. He sold everything he had, and went from house to house, collecting funds for the trip. Finally he had enough to take him as far as the sea.

He then went to board a ship, but he did not have any money. He went to the ship’s captain and showed him the jewel. The captain immediately welcomed him aboard the ship with great honour, assuming he was a very trustworthy person. He gave the poor man a special first class cabin, and treated him like a wealthy personage. The poor man’s cabin had a view of the sea, and he sat there, constantly looking at the diamond and rejoicing. He was especially particular to do this during his meals, since eating in good spirits is highly beneficial for digestion. Then one day, he sat down to eat, with the diamond lying in front of him on the table where he could enjoy it. Sifting there he dozed off. Meanwhile, the mess boy came and cleared the table, shaking the tablecloth with it’s crumbs and the diamond into the sea. When he woke up and realised what had happened, he almost went mad with grief. Besides, the captain was a ruthless man who would not hesitate to kill him for his fare. Having no other choice, he continued to act happy, as if nothing had happened. The captain would usually speak to him a few hours every day, and on this day, he put himself in good spirits, so that the captain was not aware that anything was wrong. The captain said to him,

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