Pushkina Street, the main street in the city of Oman in Ukraine, these days looks like a Jewish town in Eastern Europe of the 21st century. The butcher, the cobbler and the juicer were replaced by businesses such as “Star-Bucks – Artisan Cafe”, the trendy “Yarmulka” store, the “De Best” pizzeria, signs for real estate opportunities on the spot and many other stores for sacred objects and fast food, many of which boast the sign. Open 24/6″.
Dozens of different types of Gamachs fill the city in the cold month of Elul, in preparation for the annual revelry marking the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav. But this year the revelry takes a turn, symbolized by a small sign at the entrance to the rabbi’s grave which reads in Hebrew and Ukrainian: “This year we all pray for the peace of Ukraine.” .
Over 100 police officers and members of a security unit established by the local government with the cooperation of the Hassidim roam the city. The service is not provided for free: each tourist has to pay 1,350 hryvnias (NIS 125), a kind of tax on the security service on days when every soldier is required to fight on the front, which is 500 kilometers away from the place of revelry. Unlike previous years, the Israel Police will be absent from the celebrations this year.
“The significant rush is expected to be after Rosh Hashanah” Rehovot Oman (Photo: Moshe Levy, Ihud Hatzla)
About 45,000 Hasidic come every year to the site of the grave of the famous rabbi on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. This huge Tesuvah movement, of tens of thousands of Hasidic followers in Israel and many more around the world who visit the city of Oman in Ukraine every year, is the largest Source of income for the city of 100,000 inhabitants.
Two years of the Corona epidemic forced most of the Hassidim to leave the city, and only 4,000 Hasidim managed to come to the revelry last year. The others who arrived in the following months, with the significant reduction in air traffic restrictions in the world, expressed optimism about Rosh Hashanah, and prepared to return en masse. Then came the war.
7,000 followers in three weeks, and another 6,000 on the way
Uman is indeed at an aerial distance of 180 km from the Dnieper River, which is the de facto western border for the conduct of the battles, but the skies of the country are still closed to civilian flights. Those who want to reach the Rebbe’s grave site have to travel at least 400 km from the airport Iasi in Romania, or 165 km from the border crossing with Little Moldova, to which there is an average of one flight a day, on regular days. In the run-up to Rosh Hashanah, there are between 3 and 4 flights a day from Israel, which have been full to capacity for weeks.
The shuttle services from the borders are also full to capacity. 33 flights left during the week before Rosh Hashanah to Romania, of which 12 were to Suceava and Liasi, the two smallest airports in the country with one runway and close to the border with Ukraine.
The reports regarding the number of Jews who come to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in Uman vary between 10,000 and 22,000. From mid-August until yesterday, about 4,000 Hasidic arrived, according to the local Jewish community, but the Israeli transportation companies in the city report more extensive traffic, and their representatives speak of about 7,000 Hasidic who have arrived so far. The Airports Authority reports an additional 6,000 will take off towards Ukraine, and land near its borders from today until Rosh Hashanah. In a normal year, between 400 and 800 Chassidim come to Uman every Shabbat.
“The government here at the moment is military rule, there is a night curfew and we don’t play with it” The preparatory committee of the Hasidim of Oman for Rosh Hashanah in a preparatory meeting with the local police (photo: the preparatory committee)
Natan Levy (19) from Jerusalem, came to Uman to work in the office of the transportation company Paichla (“to handle” in Yiddish), “We collect Hasidic from the borders of Ukraine, Miashi and Moldova, since we cannot fly into Ukraine,” he says, “We had A problem, because most of the men in the country are conscripted for the war, so some of the drivers are Ukrainian drivers over the age of 65, who can leave the country’s borders, and some of the workers are Moldovan or Romanian citizens.”
Levy tells of between 20 and 55 vehicles a day, including taxis, private cars, minibuses, buses and everything in between (there is also an impressive VIP line-up), which transport the hundreds of Hasidic, on their mobiles and their families, from the borders and airports. “In the last three weeks, we brought something like 7,000 Hasidim,” says Levy, who does not want to commit to a number, but personally estimates that more have arrived. “The significant rush is expected to be after Rosh Hashanah, and the great majority of the Hasidic who arrived in torrents, are expected to leave after Rosh Hashanah within three days,” he elaborates.
“Before the corona virus, I was in Uman almost every year, 16 times,” says Natan, who, as mentioned, is only 19 years old. National Transit and we drove from the border all the way there.”
“In the war we increased the medical forces, but for Rosh Hashanah we returned here”
“During the war we were much more spread out, and we lowered our profile a bit in the combat zones,” says Shlomi Elisha (26), who has been living in Ukraine for 7 years. Elisha serves as the deputy director of the organization ‘Rescue Ukraine’, an organization that has been operating throughout Ukraine for 10 years in several centers throughout the year, and even more so since the beginning of the war. “.
The organization is the only rescue organization in Ukraine run by Jews, and has clinics in Uman, Odessa and Kyiv and an array of medical personnel, ambulances and a bus. The organization is funded mainly by donations, and does not receive funds from official bodies in Ukraine or Israel.
“We are prepared for any scenario, including emergency response and evacuation of many wounded” Shlomi Elisha (right) with the leadership of ‘Rescue Ukraine’ (Photo: Rescue Ukraine)
“In the last two years, fewer people came, about 4,000 people each year during the Corona period,” says Elisha. “Since the war began, fewer people have also arrived. We are prepared for any scenario, including an ARN (multiple casualty event) and evacuations of many wounded. We are in close contact with the hospitals and all the factors in matters of security and medicine.”
Moshe Levy (37), VP of planning and strategy at Uman Hatzala, is responsible for Uman Hatzala in Uman for the Rosh Hashanah period. During the year there are volunteers who live there, and 38 employees in the organization in Uman, some Jewish and some local non-Jews, to provide medical assistance to the residents of the area “When the war started, we increased the medical forces in the district,” says Levy, who every year comes to the city before Rosh Hashanah. “During Rosh Hashanah, the work doubles and multiplies, but the arrival of worshipers, who are also volunteers of the Salvation Union from Eretz Yisrael, helps with the shifts.”
In the city of Oman there are three not very large medical centers, to which those who are slightly injured or sick with relatively simple diseases are referred. “If necessary, more complex patients are referred to Kiev, and not to Odessa, which is closer, because of its proximity to the front and the burden on the hospitals there.”
The oldest medical force in the city, as far as Jews are concerned, is the brothers Nati and Israel Klein, who are in charge of the Oman Clinic. They live in Safed and Tiberias, and established the clinic 25 years ago to assist the many worshipers who come to the place every year. The clinic coordinates most of the information and medical treatment, in cooperation with ‘Hatzla Ukraine’ and ‘Ihud Hatzala’.
All the Israeli factors in the place are unanimous regarding the medical insurance. “Medical treatment is very expensive here,” says young Natan Levy. “I suggest to everyone who comes here to come with all their medications, and to take out medical insurance in advance with an Israeli company. The treatment at the Israeli clinics here is excellent, but if you come to a hospital, you should prepare your wallet if you don’t have insurance.”
“Protector of Ukraine”: private supervision
The arrival of between 10,000 and 20,000 tourists to Ukraine is not a common sight in the last six months, so in the run-up to Rosh Hashanah, and with the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin of a significant increase in the recruitment of citizens with a military background for combat, the Ukrainian government in Uman began operating the company Magan Ukraine’, operated by Hebrew-speaking soldiers.
The Israel Police will not come to the celebrations in the war-torn country this year, but Davar was informed by the police that two Israeli police officers will be staying at the Israeli Embassy in Ukraine, and will be in contact with the Ukrainian Police Command and the Oman Police in case of unusual events as they occur. “The security and safety responsibility for the safety of the visitors to Uman lies with the government of Ukraine and the various authorities in the country, and is the responsibility of each passenger,” the Israel Police said.
The security plan for the unusual number of tourists arriving this year includes three security rings around Rabbi Nachman’s tomb, where soldiers and policemen will be stationed alongside security personnel from the security company. “The locals are very happy to see the followers coming and are happy about their prayers for Ukraine’s success in the war,” says Elisha. “But on the other hand, they fear that such a concentrated arrival of so many people may draw fire and cause the Russians to create a provocation.”
“During Rosh Hashanah the work doubles and multiplies, but the arrival of worshipers at the place, who are also Ihud Hatzla volunteers from Eretz Yisrael, helps with the shifts” Ihud Hatzla people in Uman (Photo: Moshe Levy, Ihud Hatzla)
According to him, “There is concern from all directions, the authorities and authorities of Ukraine were prepared this year in a special way, and every immigrant who arrives in Uman goes through several checkpoints and tests, magnetometers and checks. The Ukrainians did not compromise on this matter.”
“It is important to understand that Ukraine is in a war for its independence from the Russian enemy. We need to pray for its success,” says Elisha. “Uman is in the Cherkasy district, which is almost the size of the State of Israel, and since the beginning of the war only one civilian in the entire district has been killed, and that too from the interception of a missile, so on the one hand the war is not going on here, but on the other hand we cannot be complacent.”
Elisha’s fear has a basis, since about two months ago 23 people were killed in the city of Vinitia, which is also located on the west bank of the Dnieper River, about 400 km from the river and even more from the line of fire.
Elisha reminds those coming to Ukraine that it is forbidden to take pictures of military personnel, or to walk around the street between 11:00 PM and 5:00 AM. In addition, it is forbidden to use dollars in stores, but only hryvnias. “You have to respect the policemen and soldiers who left their families,” says Elisha, “It is forbidden to speak in pro-Russian expressions, for fear of hurting local feelings, which could even lead to suspicion of espionage.”
“Darkness is darkness. The danger is that you will convince yourself that she is light“
The sentence above was written by the man in whose honor thousands of worshipers come every year, but this year the same darkness takes on a different effect. A night curfew was imposed on the cities of the hinterland used to darken them, which suffered in recent months from night attacks by the Russian army, among other things due to their proximity to military installations.
“There is no atmosphere of war here as they say, but it is at a great distance,” says Natan Levy, who arrived in the city just three weeks ago. “You only hear about the war on the news. You don’t feel it at all. Two months ago there was a period of bombings, and they were very careful about the curfew and the blackout at night.”
“There is no atmosphere of war here as they say” Ihud Hatzla ambulance in Uman (photo: Ihud Hatzla)
He tells of a small group of American followers who left their apartments towards the grave to pray there during curfew, but were stopped by the police on the streets, deported from the country and banned from entering Ukraine for 3 years.
“Yesterday laws came into effect prohibiting the sale of alcohol in any Uman center. We managed to organize before the holiday, but they made this law for the war effort, which means energy drinks were also given to the soldiers, you can’t find them at all. Almost all the bars in Uman are closed, because they don’t want them to be Riots or drunks or something like that. But you don’t feel the war situation at all.”
The representatives of the Israeli police will not come, but as mentioned will stay in Kiev, but Moshe Levy says that some of those standing next to the Ukrainian border guards, and dressed in the uniform of the Ukrainian police, are Hebrew speakers with an Israeli accent, who help the Israeli tourists move through the checkpoints on the main roads.
“The government here at the moment is a military government, there is a night curfew and they don’t play with it,” says Moshe Levy, “there are soldiers, the border guard and Ukrainian police here, and there are Israeli representatives who work with the police at the checkpoints, on behalf of the Israeli embassy, this makes it very easy in terms of the ability to communicate with The policemen. I met some of them two hours ago at the checkpoint on Pushkina Street, they say they are from the Israeli police, but they are wearing Ukrainian police uniforms.”
Elisha insists that I write at the end his blessings to the Jewish people and the Ukrainian people: “Want to bless all the people of Israel with a good and sweet year. Long live Ukraine, glory to the nation.”
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