Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday that Kyiv would “significantly limit” the entry of Jewish pilgrims for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah next month.
“At the request of the Prime Minister of Israel, a decision was made to significantly limit the pilgrimage of Hasids to the town of Uman for Rosh Hashanah celebrations,” a statement from Zelensky’s office read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office swiftly denied that the premier had made such a request, in what may have been an effort so assuage his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
“As made clear in a joint statement of Israel and Ukraine published last week, the prime minister and president advised not going to Uman because of the virus situation, but noted and emphasized that it is [the responsibility of] those who decide to go to Uman to keep to health guidelines,” the statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
The Tuesday statement from Zelensky’s office did not specify the degree to which the pilgrimage will be limited. Uman normally sees some 30,000 visitors, most of them from Israel, visit the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov for the Rosh Hashanah holiday.
Ukraine is one of the few countries that are currently allowing in Israeli nationals, despite the high coronavirus infection rate in the Jewish state.
Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the top official tasked with Israel’s coronavirus response, said Tuesday that he would “do everything” to prevent tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews from flying to Uman.
“I respect the worshipers, and the harsh messages they are sending me pain me,” said Gamzu, who has vociferously opposed approving the flights. “But I’m not considering [abandoning this] position. If I see I’m not given the tools to bring down morbidity, I [will] have [no reason to stay] in the post.”
On Sunday, a health official told Channel 12 that 2,000 people are believed to have already traveled to Ukraine, despite attempts to prevent the annual event over pandemic concerns.
Israel and Ukraine have called on Israelis not to travel to Uman for the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage due to the ongoing pandemic.
There have been concerns that even if direct flights are canceled, pilgrims will find alternative routes to the site.
This year, Rosh Hashanah begins in the evening of September 18. Gamzu on Friday pleaded with Zelensky to prevent the mass gathering.
“I would like to express my concern that holding two weeks of intensive celebrations, in the heart of the city of Uman, where tens of thousands of people will celebrate in crowded conditions, will inevitably have severe short and long-term implications — both on the local community of Uman and beyond, as well as for the State of Israel,” he wrote in a letter to the Ukrainian president.
Gamzu’s opposition to the pilgrimage has raised hackles among Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, some of whom have reportedly sought to oust him from his post.
Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism has said the regulation of flights would be a “slap in the face to tens of thousands of Breslov followers,” according to Channel 12.
Header: Ultra orthodox men seen playing music inside a synagogue in the town of Uman, Ukraine, to where thousands of ultra orthodox Jews travelled to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, during the Jewish holiday of Rosh Ha Shana. September 07, 2013. Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash90.