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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


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Journey into the past

KHMELNITSKY, Ukraine -- Shortly after dawn, Ukrainian passersby gawk as about 20 Hasidic rabbis, decked from head to toe in black traditional coats, stand in the aisle of an old, muddy Intourist bus, bowing their heads back and forth in earnest prayer. Hasidic Jews, although a significant part of Ukraine's population 60 years ago, are these days as rare as a convertible Mercedes in this former Soviet republic. This tour, however, of the birthplace of Hasidism in the mid-18th century, has special significance to the rabbis from Israel, the United States and Britain. In the last half century many Jews of the former Soviet Union were slaughtered by the Nazis and many others repressed by the Communists. Now, with new freedom of access for foreigners, the Hasidim see their stay here as the opening foray in attempts to revive the faith and proselytize among Jews for their particular style of Judaism. Hasidic rabbis from the West have set up shop in Ukraine as part of this effort.
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