311_Shmuel Menachem Tobol.
(photo credit: Hadashot 24)
Shmuel Menachem Tubol didn’t have a chance. The blade that punctured his
chest left a gaping hole in his heart and he died in a local hospital after
falling unconscious on the sidewalk.
The details of what led to Tubol’s
murder at the hands of Ukrainian locals in Uman on Saturday night are unclear,
but it appears the incident is linked to a climate of violence that lies beneath
the surface of the pilgrimage to the Ukrainian city, the burial site of Rabbi
Nahman of the Breslov Hassidic sect.
This year, over 25,000 Jews from
Israel and around the world descended on the Ukrainian backwater town for the
annual Rosh Hashana pilgrimage. The event was the largest of its kind held in
the 200 years since Nahman’s death.
Throughout the pilgrimage, a string
of violent incidents between Jews and Ukrainian locals indicated that the event
had reached its breaking point, and was being held without even a modicum of
Speaking to Ukrainians and reading the local press before and
after Rosh Hashana, it became clear that the pilgrimage draws the ire of no
small number of locals, who see the annual visitors as an unruly, disrespectful,
and bizarre horde that comes to raise hell under the guise of seeking
redemption. For their part, many of the pilgrims view their Ukrainian hosts as
backward, rural and violent anti-Semites who can’t be trusted and have a
historical penchant for abusing and killing Jews.
While the exact motives
of Tubol’s murderers remain unknown, evidence and witness testimony given so far
have indicated that the killers were looking to attack a Jew, possibly as
retaliation for the stabbing and moderate wounding of an alleged local petty
thief by an Israeli pilgrim on Rosh Hashana.
Regardless of what led to
the murder, now that tension between locals and the Jewish pilgrims has left a
19-year-old Israeli murdered in cold blood in a foreign country, a sober
examination of the pilgrimage must be made, with a focus on the glaring lack of
Tubol’s death should lead to a renewed debate over whether to
move Nahman’s remains to Israel, assuming they are actually located underneath
the prayer hall that is the center of the Uman pilgrimage.
issue is raised every year, and the pilgrimage has garnered criticism
prominent rabbis, including Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef, the
typically dismissed in light of Rabbi Nahman’s edict that his followers
travel to Uman to be with him on Rosh Hashana. At best, the debate
focuses on the exorbitant prices charged by Ukrainian airlines and the
merchants and landlords, and the burden such price-gouging poses for the
poor haredi pilgrims.
Most Breslov Hassidim would fervently oppose any
move, but such opposition could be dealt with on the diplomatic level,
Israeli officials work with their Ukrainian counterparts to remove the
and bring them to the land of Israel, creating facts under the ground.
no shortage of precedents, from Theodore Herzl to the 2005 repatriation
remains of Gush Katif residents.
Maintaining the pilgrimage as it is
represents an economic burden for the pilgrims, exacerbated by the
concerns they face in a foreign country. It also conflicts with the
the ingathering of exiles that has taken place in Israel.
Hashana pilgrimage to Uman brings together tens of thousands of
every branch of Judaism, who go through a one-of-a-kind experience
defined by a
sense of communal togetherness that is all but impossible to find here.
Nonetheless, with a concerted effort by the leadership of Breslov and
of the hassidic world, and through the support of Israel’s secular
such a gathering of tribes could take place here.
Those who heed the
Rebbe’s call to visit him in Uman no matter the cost will continue to do
long as his remains are in the Ukraine. It is up to the government to
lead here – to show some of its poorest people that they need not spend a
fortune and take security risks in a strange land where they are not
particularly wanted, to visit the bones of a sage who, unlike them, had
choice but to live in the Diaspora.