It’s hard to follow that advice when you’re a visible Jew in the middle of the Ukraine…
There’s a popular ‘theme’ that’s taken TikTok – and other social media – by storm, which involves people doing suspicious things, all the while muttering ‘don’t be suspicious, don’t be suspicious’ to themselves.
Every now and then, my kids have shown me a take on the ‘don’t be suspicious’ theme that particularly tickled them, like a dog running down the road while ‘don’t be suspicious’ plays in the background’ or people walking funny; or doing ‘suspicious’ things like painting their sister’s bedroom walls deep black.
Yesterday, Baruch Hashem, we got back from almost a month in the Ukraine, and if I had to pick a theme for our trip there, it would be: don’t be suspicious.
That’s pretty much what I was telling my kids ten times a day, as tried to make the best of our 3 ½ week odyssey in Uman.
Bits of the story you got from the blog, but it was only when I finally got home late last night – and promptly had a small but significant nose bleed – that I started to realise just how stressful the last few weeks really were.
You should know something about me:
I hate breaking the rules.
Maybe it’s a throwback to being raised in anally-retented Britain, but unless I have a very powerful reason to not obey a rule, I will do what I’m told. So it is, that I’m one of those rare people in Israel who will pay everything I officially owe on my taxes; and who won’t illegally dig out a 200 sqm basement for my house; and who won’t claim benefits I’m not owed, or try to board buses or trains without making sure I have a paid ticket.
But the last few weeks, the ‘rules’ have been bent so many times by all these corrupt government and officials all over the world, that even I am finding it hard to abide by them.
When I booked my ticket for Uman, on August 26th, 2020, the Ukrainian government had just announced that it was closing its borders to tourists from August 29th, 2020 – thanks to the pressure being applied to it by Netanyahu and Gamzu, ahead of Uman, Rosh Hashana 5781.
It took me and my family the best part of a day to run through airports in Israel, France and Portugal before finally making it to Kiev in the wee hours of August 28th – almost a full day ahead of when the airports were meant to officially close to tourists.
In other words, I was travelling totally legally.
But the State of Israel pressured Ukraine to close its borders illegally to religious Jewish pilgrims on their way to Uman for Rosh Hashana, 24 hours before Ukrainian law said they were to close.
And so, when I landed in Zhuliany Airport, my and my family were treated like criminals by the Ukrainian border guards.
We watched one non-Jewish, non-religious tourist after another get released before us.
We were left until last, and the border guards forced us to sign an illegal deportation order – in Ukrainian – without telling us what it said, then they told us that our ‘free’ flight back to Israel would be at 10am that same morning, Friday, August 28th, 2020.
They totally lied.
Around 9am, after we’d already been waiting in the closed business lounge of Zhuliany for 4 hours, and still no information about our ‘flight back’ to Israel, I went to find out what was going on.
Wait until 10am, I will have more information for you, is what I was told.
At 10am, I found that the ‘information’ was that the border guards ended their shift at 10am, so then we would become someone else’s problem to deal with.
At that stage, I started to panic, and them me and my kids started calling everyone we could think of, to help us out of a situation that we did not create, and did not expect, but which was 100% the fault of the anti-semitic State of Israel.
Over the next couple of hours, we tried all the people you are meant to try, when you’re ‘in trouble’ abroad.
The message we got back from the Israeli embassy in Ukraine is that we were totally on our own, with no sympathy from them, and that’s what you get when you try to get to Uman for Rosh Hashana when the State of Israel doesn’t want you to go.
Initially, Chabad in Kiev also wasn’t prepared to help us at all, and we even got a message from Uman that the Rav there also couldn’t do anything for us.
Never mind, that we’d been detained by the Ukrainian government illegally.
Never mind, it was Shabbat in eight hours and we didn’t have ANYTHING we could eat in the airport. Never mind, that the Ukrainian guards were becoming increasingly nasty to us, culminating in taking us out in a bus to the middle of the airfield, where 7-8 armed guards basically laughed at us, while a Rottweiler was set loose to circle the bus and keep us inside, mamash like those films you see from the shoah.
One of my teens secretly filmed that sadistic episode.
It’s only when one of my kids got in touch with a friend back in Israel who has some serious protektzia and sent her that ‘holocaust clip’ that things started to move, a little. That’s when we got a call from the Israeli consul that they’d arranged for Chabad Kiev to bring us some food for Shabbat, if we would order it from a local kosher restaurant and pay for it ourselves.
In the meantime, I found out there were no direct flights to Israel from that airport, ever.
I also found out that the next indirect flight out to Israel was departing via Minsk, Belarus, on Sunday afternoon – almost 72 hours later.
My heart sank.
But I still bought the tickets, because at least then I knew I could get out of the airport then.
In the meantime, friends back in Israel were galvanizing other more sympathetic and helpful members of Chabad, Kiev; and unbeknownst to me, my husband was also making a powerful public case for the 120 pilgrims who had been similarly trapped by the State of Israel’s dirty tricks in Kiev’s other main airport, Borispol.
20 minutes before Shabbat, some massive miracle happened and we were summarily given permission to leave Zhuliany.
In the taxi that took us to the kosher hotel in Kiev, after 2 days of trying to keep it all together, the tears finally welled up, and I cried for a good 10 minutes.
Even though I really did know that God was behind everything, and even though I was really trying to have emuna, and to believe that everything was going to turn around for the best, it was still a very traumatic experience.
Over Shabbat, I had a full and frank discussion with my family about whether we should just go home on Sunday, as planned, or now continue on to Uman.
In the end, we decided that staying together as a family was the over-riding consideration, so with a heavy heart, I continued on to Uman – at 3am in the morning, to try and avoid the roadblocks we’d heard a rumor the mayor of Uman was threatening to set up around the town.
I was also really scared to go anywhere near a Ukrainian airport again.
And on top of that, the State of Israel was issuing one threat after another about forcing people who went to Uman into ‘Corona Motels’ as soon as they landed back in the Aretz, and forcing them to have triple nasal swabs, and forcing them to have a number tattoo’d on their arm so they’d be easier to track, when they returned…
O, sorry. One of those things I made up.
But it all meant I was in no rush to fly back to Ben Gurion.
So anyway, we got Uman, and the whole time I was basically trying to tell my loud, conspicuously Israeli teenagers don’t be suspicious!!!
Don’t speak Hebrew too loudly in the street, don’t draw attention to yourselves, don’t do anything that could get us in any trouble with the Ukrainians!!!
Every time we passed a body of water, I’d have a fight with one of them not to just jump into it fully clothes, like she does back in Israel.
And I’d have a fight with one of them to not barter too rudely with the local vendors and taxi drivers; and not to start cursing the ‘anti-semitic Ukrainians’ too loudly in English, or even in Hebrew, which many of them actually understood pretty well.
Meanwhile, other of my teenage cohorts were off buying massive-bladed hunting knives for their friends back home, while they kept getting stopped by the police asking them if they smoking marijuana and trying to pat them down. They weren’t. Not even a little bit. But they look like they could be.
Let’s just say, I spent a lot of time in the Ukraine clapping my hands, to ‘sweeten the judgments’.
Nevertheless, the first two weeks we were there, it was basically OK.
True, we still got suspicious looks from the locals at the market, although some of the Ukrainians were actually pretty friendly, truth be told. It’s hard to dislike people who are spending their money at your stall, although clearly still possible.
We branched out a little, and went to Gan Sofia – the local landscaped Victorian park and lake – a couple of times; and to the Baal Shem Tov and Rav Natan’s graves, another day.
Medzhiboz and the Baal Shem Tov was actually a pretty depressing experience this time around.
My and my husband were outnumbered 3:1 by the Ukrainian workers cementing in ancient fragments of graves around the ohel, and we ended up spending just a scant 30 minutes by the BESHT.
There was something kinda creepy of being in that graveyard alone, with only Ukrainians for company, despite the BESHT’s obvious kedusha.
Rav Natan’s grave was a better experience, at least for me, and I managed to grab hold of my soul for a few moments, amidst all the ongoing worry and fear about the situation.
But by the third week, the State of Israel’s propaganda about frum Jews being ‘disease vectors’ for COVID-1984 had gone full throttle, and was being amplified throughout the local press in Uman.
Market vendors made sure to pull their masks way up over their nose, when I approached their stalls to buy potatoes or fruit, now.
Shopkeepers eyed us suspiciously.
Roadblocks appeared at both ends of Pushkina Street, and all of a sudden, the Ukrainian police presence in Uman conspicuously shot through the roof.
Don’t be suspicious, don’t be suspicious…
I kept telling my kids, like a mantra.
One of them got me 100% – she was picking up the growing ‘anti-semitic’ vibe herself, and was increasingly desperate to get home.
The other one is just 17, and still retarded. So it was much harder to keep her in ‘low profile’ mode, and not trying to mouth off to the four different types of police officers as she hung out with her new friends on the corner of Pushkina.
- The ‘standard’ Ukrainians police, who are there all the time and basically 100% bribable by the locals, so pose no real threat.
- The ‘VIP’ guards of the kever, appointed by the Breslov committee when they were trying to ‘COVID-1984’ Rabbenu 2000%, to try to persuade the State of Israel to let more pilgrims in, especially those stuck on the border of Belarus. They weren’t really scary, even when they were bundling people out of the kever for the ‘crime’ of standing still to pray mincha, as they were being paid for by Jews.
- The all-black ‘ninja’ police, who conspicuously carried real blackwood truncheons, and had a bunch of scary looking tattoos and liked to ‘amuse themselves’ by shadow boxing by themselves off down a side alley. I hated walking past those guys, especially at night.
- The black-with-raspberry-beret police, who stuck me as being paramilitary, and probably unnerved me the most, as they hung out in packs next to the free coffee place on Pushkina.
On the flight home, I found out there was a fifth group of ‘yassamnikim’ police from Israel, who are basically Ukrainian-Israelis, and who look VERY scary, with their shaved heads, tattooed biceps and special rucksacks that have the emblems of Ukraine and the State of Israel entwined together.
There were only 3 of them this year, and I have to say that wearing a mask AND A VISOR on the plane home kinda dulled their ‘hard man’ status, at least for me, but on the streets of Uman, they were probably still imposing.
So, with all that police muscle walking around, I spent at least an hour every single day drumming into my family’s head: don’t be suspicious! Don’t be suspicious!
A Jew in galut is always ‘suspicious’ to the locals, and can never really feel as though they are ‘home’, even somewhere as holy as Uman.
There was so much good that came out of the trip, even though it was so hard in so many ways.
My kids now understand way more what a present we gave them, when we moved to Israel.
As a family unit, we all also learned how to tolerate and appreciate each other more – especially when we’d be stuck in the house for long periods of time, basically feeling too intimidated to really go out anywhere.
Now I’m back in Israel in the middle of Jerusalem, in the middle of another deceitful lockdown, in the middle of an enforced two week quarantine where I am forbidden from leaving my house, I’m sure that experience will come in handy.
Also, the second day of Rosh Hashana just felt really light and happy, in Uman, as though the decrees all got sweetened.
There’s always so much I can write about Uman, especially this trip, especially this year, but I think I’ll stop there for now.
By the time Rosh Hashana 5781 started, the ‘snake’ that had been devouring the kedusha at Rabbenu’s tomb had been totally dismantled, and most people had ditched their masks, most of the time.
It felt to me as though Rabbenu has dismantled COVID-1984, as I so hoped he would, and that now it’s just a matter of time before ‘COVID-1984’ – and the evil people behind it – also crumbles to nothing in Israel and the rest of the world, too.
If Rav Berland is right, already by Yom Kippur, there should be a strong light at the end of the tunnel.
This lockdown is set to continue until October 9th – the last month of pregnancy.
Between here and November, I think a lot of things are going to happen, BH including the open revelation of Moshiach.
But whatever is on the cards, one thing is clear:
It’s going to be a big year.
PS: Now I’m back home, and finally starting to decompress from the events of the last month, I hope to be more responsive on my blog, and via email again. Thanks for your patience, dear friends and readers. It’s been a really stressful time.
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