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Israel, Ukraine urge Hasidic pilgrims not to visit Uman for Rosh Hashanah

Contrary to previous reports, travel to grave of 18th-century Rabbi Nachman of Batslav will be allowed despite virus, but under restrictions and social distancing rules

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men traveling to Uman in the Ukraine for the Jewish new year holiday of Rosh Hashanah, seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on September 5, 2018. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men traveling to Uman in the Ukraine for the Jewish new year holiday of Rosh Hashanah, seen at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on September 5, 2018. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

Israel and Ukraine have called on Israelis not to travel to Uman next month for the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the gravesite of a prominent Hasidic rabbi due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but won’t block the option completely.

“The epidemiological situation in Ukraine and Israel as well as in the world in general, unfortunately, does not allow us to traditionally commemorate the holiday this year,” the countries said Tuesday in a joint statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The statement added: “We urge all pilgrims who have planned or are planning to take part in this year’s Rosh Hashanah celebrations in Ukraine to refrain from visiting the city of Uman due to the threatening epidemiological situation.”

Jerusalem and Kyiv stressed to any Israelis who do choose to visit that social distancing guidelines would be strictly enforced at any public gatherings.

“We hope for understanding and sincerely believe that next year we will be able to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and other holidays together and without any restrictions,” the statement said.

Earlier reports had suggested that the government could block Israelis from visiting Uman altogether.

Illustrative: Hasidic pilgrims praying near the burial site of Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav in Uman, Ukraine, September 14, 2015. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images via JTA)

In previous years, about 30,000 pilgrims, mostly from Israel, have gathered for the Jewish new year in Uman, home to the burial place of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Bratslav Hasidic movement.

Rosh Hashanah this year begins in the evening of September 18.

The decision followed meetings between representatives from the Health Ministry, Foreign Ministry and National Security Council in which various options were discussed.

Last month, Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich said the Ukrainian government had agreed to let at least 5,000 people attend the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage. The quota may rise as high as 8,000, but the pilgrims will have to wear face masks in crowded places and refrain from gatherings of more than 30 people, he added. Israeli health officials are “nervous” about what will happen when the pilgrims return, Bleich said.

Israel has over 23,000 active COVID-19 cases and has seen some 700 deaths since the start of the pandemic. In Ukraine, there are over 42,000 active cases, and more than 2,100 deaths.

JTA contributed to this report.

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