Ukraine to expel two Hasidic Jews for tearing down barriers at pilgrimage site
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Ukraine to expel two Hasidic Jews for tearing down barriers at pilgrimage site

Rosh Hashanah pilgrims make ‘mess’ at grave of rabbi, official says, reportedly in frustration at the limitations imposed on numbers due to the coronavirus outbreak

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine said on Thursday that it will deport two ultra-Orthodox Jews after they broke apart metal barriers near the grave of an 18th-century rabbi.

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews travel every Rosh Hashanah, held this year on September 18-20, to the town of Uman in central Ukraine to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of the Bratslav Hasidic movement.

But restrictions imposed by the Ukrainian authorities to stop the spread of the coronavirus significantly cut the number of pilgrims and limited the scope of the celebrations this year.

“Yesterday in the town of Uman a group of young pilgrims and Israeli citizens made a mess at the grave of Tzaddik Nachman, breaking apart barriers set up to ensure the orderly passage to the shrine,” Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said.

Ukrainian law enforcement agencies will deport “two of the most aggressive Israeli citizens,” Gerashchenko said on Facebook.

“Ukrainians are hospitable people, but we will not tolerate rude behavior and violence,” he added.

The United Jewish Community of Ukraine condemned the upheaval at the grave and called on pilgrims to behave responsibly.

“Jewish wisdom says that it is necessary to observe the laws of the country in which the Jew is,” the statement said according to an English-language translation reported by the UNIAN news agency. “Given the current situation, when the pilgrimage is significantly limited, those who were able to get to Uman should all the more behave appropriately.”

The organization said it was appealing to the Rabbi Nachman Foundation, which represents the Bratslav movement in Ukraine, asking what measures it will be taking and urging the foundation to punish those involved.

“We ask you to do everything possible so that they are punished and not allowed to the complex of Rabbi Nachman, in order to show others the inadmissibility of such behavior and the seriousness of the consequences of such behavior,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, dozens of Bratslav pilgrims began tearing down metal barriers installed at the grave site that were erected by local authorities to limit the numbers of visitors in the complex.

In video shared on social media, the pilgrims could be seen pulling apart the barriers. Pilgrims in Uman told the Ynet website that the Bratslav followers were frustrated at the limitations and the delays in providing a plan for them to all be able to pray as they wish.

Last month, the Ukrainian and Israeli governments called on Hasidic Jews not to travel to Uman, a town of 80,000 people, this year, fearing a spike in coronavirus infections.

Kyiv later banned foreigners from entering the country until late September.

Authorities have also warned they plan to set up checkpoints at the entrance to Uman and some 3,000 pilgrims who are still expected to visit the shrine this year will have to test for coronavirus.

Rabbi Nachman is one of the main figures of Hasidism, a mystical branch of Judaism that appeared in the 18th-century and which developed in particular in Poland and Ukraine.

Ukraine has reported more than 145,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,023 fatalities.

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