Ukraine bans annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to Uman over coronavirus pandemic

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims who travel each year to Ukraine for a Rosh Hashanah rite will have to make different plans for September.

The Ukrainian government has barred the trip to Uman, where the revelers mark the Jewish New Year at the burial site of an 18th century rabbi, saying concerns over the spread of the coronavirus was too great, the Hebrew-language website Beharedi Haredim first reported.

The pilgrimage has created frequent friction between the predominantly Israeli pilgrims and locals, many of whom resent the cordoning off of neighborhoods by police.

A letter from the government stopping the pilgrimage — issued after a meeting of government ministers on July 9 — said the decision “has nothing to do with politics and anti-Semitism.” It also said that Israeli officials understand and agree with Ukraine’s decision in light of the situation.

According to the letter, posted in its original Ukrainian on the news website, some of the reasons for barring pilgrims include the increase in cases of the coronavirus in Israel, the inability of Ukrainian hospitals to care for the foreigners, and the fact that the local police are not sufficiently prepared to enforce the guidelines of isolation, masks and social distancing.

The pilgrims visit the burial site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who during his lifetime had called on his followers to be with him on Rosh Hashanah.