Uman Rosh Hashanah – Not For Me

Uman Rosh Hashanah

Uman Rosh HashanahEvery year before Rosh Hashanah, tens of thousands of Jews make an annual pilgrimage to the grave-site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine. Not only Breslov Chasiddim make the trip but also Jews from all walks of life, devoutly religious along with traditionalists, Chassidim and Misnagdim, Sefardim and Ashkenazim. The words “Uman Rosh Hashanah” have become a password, a symbol and a call for action before the High Holy Days.

It might seem so, but not everyone agrees with that assumption.

Undoubtedly, the experience of so many Jews praying together on Rosh Hashanah at the burial-place of a Tsaddik, is an uplifting and awe-inspiring experience. The prayers along with vast communal meals, the singing and dancing and even the toasts of Le’ChaimĀ  over the course of the holiday, make for an unforgettable memory. I know many people who return to Uman, leaving their families behind to relive Uman Rosh Hashanah, year after year.

The Downside

Despite the obvious benefits in the Uman Experience, many great Rabbi’s were and are still opposed to making this trip before Rosh Hashanah. For example, Rav Ovadia Yosef in blessed memory was heard saying:

“The Hasidim should be doing what they are doing. But the rest of the people going, are they Hasidim of Uman? On Rosh HaShana everyone should be with their families, and not traveling to Kivre Tsadiqim…….Any person who is a Ba’ar Da’at, a Ba’ar Sekhel, should be Rosh HaShana night making Kidush for his family. Families should be eating together, drinking together, and celebrate the Yom Tov together. This is what Yom Tov is all about. On Yom Tov what should we do? Go to a cemetery, or be with our families?”

Rav Ovadia wasn’t the only one who came out against this trip; many Rabbi’s opposed it and not only because it contradicted normative Jewish family life. Uman attracts authentic Breslov Chasiddim and devout Jews seeking to pray, but also many people from the fringes of society, including former prison inmates, and many who are seeking a less than spiritual experience. See The Times of Israel in their article: What happens in Uman stays in Uman to get a grim picture of what goes on parallel to the prayers.

The Ukrainians themselves want the extra tourist income but sharply oppose the display of negative behaviors, the huge mess and the attitude of the pilgrims towards the local populace. It won’t surprise me if God forbid this might set off anti-Semitic reactions one day.

Uman Rosh HashanahFor me, the idea of abandoning your wife and kids on Rosh Hashanah to get a feel-good experience in a country which killed countless thousands of Jews over the centuries, doesn’t tally up with the Day of Judgement and Reckoning. I believe in staying home with one’s family, eating together and praying in the same Shul and coming home to bless each other for a Good New Year.

Uman Rosh Hashanah? Not for me.

Ksiva Ve’chasima Tova!