Ukraine Chernobyl Jews

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Ukraine - Back in black
The Hassidic Jews pilgrimage in Chernobyl
Photos: Pierpaolo Mittica
Black shadows wander through Chernobyl, the Ukrainian city that suffered the greatest nuclear disaster in history. They appear against the light before broken windows. They obliquely pass over walls, caressing the peeling plaster in silence. They sigh over sarcophagi covered with unlit candles. And they speak an ancient language which few now remember after the tragic accident of 26 April 1986. But they are not the spirits of those hundreds of men and women who were forced to flee the radioactive cloud produced by the failed nuclear reactors. Their bodies are real. They have long beards. They wear hats with long braids hanging from them. They are the last descendants of one of the most important citizens of Chernobyl who was buried here in 1787: Rabbi Menachem Bochum Twersky, the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the reforming current of orthodox Judaism.

They come in pilgrimage every year to honour his memory and that of the confreres who lived in the Ukrainian city until 1920, when the anti-Semitic uprisings aided by the tsars transformed into the atheist and devastating hand of the Soviet communists. There is almost no remaining trace of the five synagogues which had made Chernobyl the capital of Hasidic Judaism. Only tombstones hidden in birch forests. Ruined roads that lead to nothing. But in that place where the time and madness of man had no pity for the mortal remains of Chernobyl, a faithful Hasidic song continues to rise up to heaven. Their hands trace the commemorative words on the walls of the once-inhabited homes. Where the confreres come from is unimportant: if from the homonymous town recreated 40 kilometres from New York, or from some remote corner of the world.
The promised land is here, and Twersky's children will never leave this place. Whatever tragedy history will want to write.
Ukraine Chernobyl Jews
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