An Israeli Breslov Hassid was stabbed to death and his brother was beaten late Saturday night in the Ukrainian city of Uman. Shmuel Toubul, 20, and his older brother Rafael were in Ukraine to assist Jews making the pilgrimage to the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
The three assailants fled the scene but hours later two of them were apprehended by police. Police have yet to decided whether to charge the two with murder or manslaughter.
The victims' family believe the incident was motivated by anti-Semitism. It is also thought that the attack may have been motivated by the Rosh Hashanah killing of a local man by a Jew who fled the country.
The killing of Toubul occurred on the 200th anniversary of the death of Rebbe Nachman.
The Jewish community in Ukraine managed to persuade the police to hand over Toubul's body without performing an autopsy, though one is required by law. Performing an autopsy is a sacrilege to many religious Jews. The body was flown to Israel, and the man was to be laid to rest late last night in Jerusalem.
The stabbing, just after midnight Saturday, occurred a few hundred meters from the rebbe's grave, where Jewish followers had gathered to pay homage and mark 200 years since his passing. The Toubuls, originally from the West Bank settlement of Immanuel, manage a number of businesses in Uman. They own an apartment they rent out, operate a transportation service and a local supermarket offering kosher products to the tens of thousands of Jewish visitors who come annually.
The Toubuls' businesses in Uman are managed by Rafael Toubul, with the younger Shmuel making the trip before Rosh Hashanah to offer help. Shmuel Toubul kept in touch with many Israeli visitors via his Facebook page. He was to be married in Israel in two months.
According to the Toubul family and local Jewish officials in Uman, the memorial ceremony near the rebbe's grave drew dozens of people. Shmuel Toubul was sent to bring refreshments. While he was inside his home, he heard noises outside, where three young men were hurling rocks at his car. He alerted Rafael, who was also home. The two went outside to chase away the stone throwers, who then assaulted the brothers. Rafael Toubul says they tried to defend themselves, they hit back and offered the attackers money to leave them alone. But one of them produced a knife and stabbed Shmuel Toubul three times, including once in the heart. He was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Rafael was beaten around the head and feet with an object.
Another brother, Nachman Toubul, said: "Even though my brother Rafael offered the youths money so that they would be left alone, they refused, pulled out a knife, and stabbed Shmuel, of blessed memory, in the heart. Shmuel collapsed on the spot and he called out to his brother, 'Rafael, they stabbed me in the heart.'" He said his brother lost consciousness and then was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Ukrainian police are trying to determine whether the violence was random and whether the suspects involved were under the influence of alcohol. One of the suspects is in his early 30s and the other in his early 20s. They were found to have blood stains on their clothing.
Eli Shvidler contributed to this report.