Last year my wife and I traveled to Ukraine for the first time. Our son, Hillel, who was also visiting, arranged for a driver to help us get around. After landing at the Kyiv Boryspil International Airport, we drove to Uman and spent the night. The following day we drove to Bratslav and then to Medzhibizh where we spent our second night. Finally, we drove to Berdychiv and then back to the airport. Take a look at this link to see our route.
When visiting Ukraine one can’t escape the stark historical fate of Ukrainian Jews. During the 1600s they were slaughtered in the Cossack Uprising. In the early 20th century they faced pogroms. Then they were decimated by the Holocaust. Everywhere there are mass graves, plaques, bleakness, and sadness in the few remaining Jews’ eyes. While the trip was incredibly somber, it was simultaneously spiritually uplifting due to the number of historical Jewish sites we visited.
Below I’ve listed some of the highlights of our trip.
- Nachman of Breslov – Nachman of Breslov founded the Breslov Hasidic movement. Since Rebbe Nachman died in 1810, Jews from all over the world have been making the pilgrimage to his grave. After the Bolshevik Revolution and the Communist era that followed, it became difficult for Hasidim to attend the annual Rosh Hashana pilgrimage. Today, however, the tradition continues openly. If you are unfamiliar with Rebbe Nachman, take a look at some of his most famous quotes.
- Nathan of Breslov – Nathan of Breslov was Rebbe Nachman’s foremost student. He is credited with promoting the Breslov movement after Rebbe Nachman died. His grave can be found in a cemetery that overlooks Bug River.
- Baal Shem Tov – Baal Shem Tov is the founder of Hasidic Judaism. His grave can be found in Medzhibizh’s Old Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery also features graves of other important Hassidic leaders. Outside of town, there is another cemetery which is actually a mass grave of Jews killed during the Holocaust. A number of important quotes have been attributed to Baal Shem Tov. View them here.
- Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev – Rabbi Levi Yitzchok is buried in Berdychiv. During his life, he composed some of the most popular Hasidic religious folk songs including A Dude’le. You can learn more about Rabbi Levi Yitzchok by visiting this site.
To learn more about the history of Jews in Ukraine, I encourage you to take a look at the following sites:
- The Jewish Community of Ukraine
- Ukraine Virtual Jewish History Tour
- Why Record Numbers of Ukrainian Jews Are Fleeing to Israel