UMAN, Ukraine (JTA) -- Like an extra in a spaghetti Western, a young Israeli man is catapulted straight out of the doorway of the Uman Emergency Clinic.
Furious, he tries to re-enter but changes his mind after receiving another forceful shove from Leonid Schpitz, head nurse and chief bouncer.
Schpitz, a burly man with a low tolerance for misbehavior, belongs to a team of 10 medical professionals -- only some of them Jewish -- who staff the clinic in this small Ukrainian city every Rosh Hashanah, when tens of thousands of Jewish followers of the Breslaver rebbe pour into Uman.
The Breslavers -- most of them Chasidim but many of them fellow travelers -- come to Uman to pray near the grave of their rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, who founded the Breslaver movement. He died in 1810 at the age of 38. Nachman had no heir, so his gravesite remains the closest his devotees can get to their rebbe, and it has become a major pilgrimage site. Rosh Hashanah is the climax of the pilgrimage, when up to 30,000 Jews arrive in the city, sleeping in tents, cramped rental apartments and villas.
Uman has numerous synagogues, ranging from shuls with seating for thousands to cramped rooms no larger than studio apartments. The busiest, Heichal Zion, stands on a hill overlooking the grave site. It can hold about 1,500 people, but at least 5,000 congregate outside its walls to pray on Rosh Hashanah. Many Jews also pray on the streets in groups of 10 to 50.
Most of the pilgrims are Israeli, and some are new recruits to the movement from Israeli prisons and neglected urban areas, where Breslavers (also pronounced Bratslavers) do much of their outreach work.
It all makes for a raucous atmosphere on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in Pushkina, the Uman neighborhood where most of the Jewish pilgrims stay. The streets are bustling with men, many of them wearing festive white robes. Negotiating a path between the large potholes that scar the asphalt of Uman's poorly lit streets, they pop in and out of the yards of houses that their friends are renting from locals. Children scamper all around, even on rooftops. Some men engage in group hugs and conversations about spirituality, while next to them groups of young, excitable men shove, curse and shout as they roam the small area looking for trouble. Stabbings occur here almost every year, and visitors sometimes try to steal medicine from the Uman Emergency Clinic, according to its staff.