Editorial 2: Rosh Hashana, Uman, Ukraine
Every Rosh Hashana, or Jewish New Year usually in September, there is a major pilgrimage by tens of thousands of Hasidic and other Jews from around the world to the burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, located on the former site of the Jewish cemetery in a rebuilt synagogue in Uman, Ukraine. Rebbe Nachman spent the last five months of his life in Uman, and specifically requested to be buried here. As believed by the Breslov Hassidim, before his death he solemnly promised to intercede on behalf of anyone who would come to pray on his grave on Rosh Hashana, "be he the worst of sinners"; thus, a pilgrimage to this grave provides the best chance of getting unscathed through the stern judgement which, according to Jewish faith, God passes on everybody on Yom Kippur.
The Rosh Hashana pilgrimage dates back to 1811, when the Rebbe's foremost disciple, Nathan of Breslov, organised the first such pilgrimage on the Rosh Hashana after the Rebbe's death. The annual pilgrimage attracted hundreds of Hasidim from Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 sealed the border between Russia and Poland.
A handful of Soviet Hasidim continued to make the pilgrimage clandestinely; some were discovered by the KGB and exiled to Siberia, where they died. The pilgrimage ceased during the Second World War and resumed on a drastically smaller scale in 1948.
From the 1960s until the fall of Communism in 1989, several hundred American and Israeli Hasidim made their way to Uman, both legally and illegally, to pray at the grave of Rebbe Nachman. In 1988, the Soviets allowed 250 men to visit the Rebbe's grave for Rosh Hashana; the following year, over 1,000 Hasidim gathered in Uman for Rosh Hashana 1989. In 1990, 2,000 Hasidim attended. In 2008, attendance reached 25,000 men and boys, and it has been growing ever since.