It was the series “Servant of the People” which revealed actor Volodymyr Zelensky in the role of a Ukrainian president who is as sincere and patriotic as he is quixotic. Season 3 of this series was broadcast in March 2019, shortly before Zelensky was actually elected head of state, with a presidential party called… “Servant of the People”.
In the final episode of the series, the fictional president manages to ensure the unity of a Ukraine divided into around twenty principalities with caricatured features: the “Duchy of Galicia” with notables marked by their pro-Polish tropism, the “Emirate of Crimea” with silent and impressive fighters, or the “republic of pilgrimage” of ultra-Orthodox Jews, with Uman as its capital. The actor-president, himself of Jewish origin, was thus referring to the very popular pilgrimage, every Jewish New Year, to the tomb of Rabbi Nahman in Uman.
Lenthusiasm of “Bratslovers”
Rabbi Nahman, born in 1772 in Bratslav, two hundred kilometers southwest of Kiev, is a great-grandson of the Baal Chem Tov, the “master of the Good Name”, founder in Ukraine of the Hasidic current and its mystical renewal of Jewish piety. Even more than other Hasidic references, Rabbi Nahman puts joy and dance at the heart of his practice, despite the tragedies he goes through, until his death from tuberculosis, at the age of 38, in Ouman , one hundred kilometers east of Bratslav.
Leaving no successor, he nevertheless affirmed, just before his death, that visiting his grave for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, constitutes spiritual restoration. The pilgrimage to Uman, which fell into disuse during the Soviet era, has revived spectacularly since Ukraine’s independence, due to the enthusiasm of the “Bratslovers”, as the disciples of Rabbi Nahman are colloquially referred to.
Only the risk of contagion from Covid-19 can, in 2020, lead thousands of pilgrims to turn back before Ukraine’s closed borders. The following pilgrimage is organized in close coordination with the health authorities of Ukraine and Israel. But the war is clearly less of a deterrent to the faithful than the pandemic, since 23,000 pilgrims are heading to Uman for Rosh Hashanah in 2022, defying warnings from the Ukrainian and Israeli governments.
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The preparation for the 2023 pilgrimage is therefore marked by controversies in Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who boasts of his close relations with Putin, dissuades his compatriots from going to Uman by saying that “God has not always protected us, neither on European soil, nor on Ukrainian soil.” These remarks sow disorder within the ultra-Orthodox parties, although they are members of the government coalition. Shas recalls that “God has always protected the people of Israel during all their exiles”, while MP Yisrael Eichler urges the Prime Minister to remain “silent when [vous] blame the God of Israel for [vos] failures and [vos] crimes ».
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