Israelis are not allowed into Ukraine this year for the annual Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – traditionally the time of a deeply spiritual pilgrimage to visit the tomb of Rebbe Nachman, 19th Century Hasidic founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, located in Uman.
Tens of thousands of Israeli Jews flock to the site annually, as do others from around the world, converging on the central Ukrainian town where the Rebbe was laid to rest.
The mass pilgrimage creates a great deal of pressure for the townspeople, according to complaints from the locals, although business owners celebrate the economic boost derived from the influx of the tens of thousands of Jews from overseas, who stay at least two weeks and sometimes longer.
This year, however, Ukraine has barred the Jews of Israel, citing the surging return of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Jewish State and the placement of Israel on the European Union’s “red list” of states with whom direct travel is heavily restricted.
“This has nothing to do with politics or anti-Semitism,” and we reject any claims which try to present it as such,” Uman mayor Oleksander Tsebriy said in a post on Facebook. “The common opinion is that the arrival of tens of thousands of Hasidic pilgrims to Uman to conduct the celebration in the traditional format is impossible,” he said, citing “the difficulty of monitoring compliance with the required safety measures,” according to Reuters.
Tsebriy added that the lack of adequate hospital and medical facilities in the Uman area – an essential need should there be a major outbreak of the novel coronavirus — figured largely in the decision to bar Israelis.
Over the years there have been numerous attempts by Israel to persuade the Ukraine government to allow the transfer of the Rebbe’s remains to Israel for interment in the soil of the Holy Land, but as yet the effort has failed.
Although the decision by the Ukraine government is a major disappointment for the followers of Breslov, it is a huge gain for the economy of the State of Israel, where ultimately, the Rebbe’s Hasidim will be forced to remain with their families to spend their money and celebrate the holidays instead.