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Hasidic Pilgrims Fined $15K for Ukraine Tent City

The Jewish community of Uman paid the city approximately $15,000 in fines for erecting an unlicensed tent city for holiday pilgrims.

The payment is part of a compromise reached last week between city officials, the Rabbi Nachman International Charitable Foundation and quality-of-government activists who lobbied to have the tent city dismantled, Rabbi Shimon Buskila of the World Breslov Center told JTA Wednesday.

“There were legal issues with a tent city for 2,500 people, which we operate on Rosh Hashanah,” said Buskila, who oversees operations related to the pilgrimage and the permanent Jewish presence in Uman.

Since the fall of communism, the central Ukrainian city of Uman has seen the arrival of thousands of pilgrims on the Jewish New Year who come to visit the gravesite of the Breslaver movement’s founder, Rabbi Nachman.

The current pilgrimage of 25,000 Jews is the first since the ousting of the government of Viktor Yanukovych in February in a revolution that started over his alleged corruption and perceived allegiance to Russia.

“The mayor was also replaced,” Buskila said of Uman, “and the change in government has produced an eagerness to bust corruption and lawlessness. So the activists targeted the tent city, which didn’t have all the permits but didn’t bother anyone.”

Before the agreement was reached, unknown parties sabotaged the fence around the tent city, Buskila said.

Among the organizations that pressed for the tent city’s removal was the local branch of the far-right Svoboda party, which in the past has organized rallies to protest the presence of Jews in the city.

The pilgrimage has created frequent friction between the predominantly Israeli new arrivals and locals — many of whom resent the cordoning off by police of neighborhoods for the pilgrims.

Another issue is the internal trade that develops among pilgrims, which some locals say eliminate the benefits that come with conventional tourism.

But according to operativno.net, Ukrainian business owners in Uman overcharge pilgrims as a matter of policy. While Ukrainian customers pay 70 cents for a dozen eggs, pilgrims are charged $10, according to the news website.

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