Next Year in Uman: A Journey to the Ukraine
Congratulations are due to Ahron Weiner, a frequent contributor to BLATT.
It's just been announced that his new photography book, Next Year in Uman: A Journey to the Ukraine, will be published in 2007 by Tzaddik, in America and in Israel, in two editions: English and Hebrew.
Every year, an increasing number of Jews from every walk of life, from all over the world, converge on a small, unremarkable city in the Central Ukraine to spend three days together, united in meditation and prayer.
Uman is home to 100,000 Ukrainians. In 2005, 25,000 Jews undertook this pilgrimage; displacing a quarter of the town’s population for the duration of their stay.
This diverse group of Jews travels to Uman for “Rosh Hashana” – the Jewish New Year, in early autumn – to pray and meditate at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a spiritual seer of the 17th century who is revered to this day as the one and only leader of the Breslov Chassidic movement.
For the past several years, I have joined this pilgrimage – camera in hand – to document this uniquely moving and increasingly spectacular event.
Rabbi Nachman, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassdism, chose to be buried here because of Uman’s tragic history. In 1768, an estimated 30,000 Jews opted to be tortured and killed by the infamous Ivan Gonta and his Cossacks rather than convert to Christianity. Rabbi Nachman believed that there had been no greater martyrdom among the Jewish people since the Roman destruction of Solomon’s Temple.
On his deathbed at the tender age of 38, Rabbi Nachman is said to have made an oath in front of his two main disciples. He proclaimed that anyone who came to his grave on Rosh Hashana to pray (and regardless of the depravity of their sins) would find a place for himself in the World to Come. His teachings, and this promise, have resonated over time, and created a ripple effect that seems to grow stronger with each passing year.
While a small number of devout Breslov adherents risked their lives to sneak into Uman when the Ukraine was under communist rule, things opened up during Perestroika, when 250 Jews were allowed to travel there, officially for purposes of observing Rosh Hashana. Since then, this pilgrimage has seen exponential growth – last year, 18,000 made the trip. This year, that number swelled to 25,000.
This series documents the festival-like atmosphere of Uman, which is part Woodstock and part Mount Sinai: with dancing, singing, eating, drinking (sometimes too much) and a spirit of communal prayer.