The first planeload of approximately 14,000 Bratslav Hasidim expected to make the traditional Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman near Uman, Ukraine, took off yesterday from Ben-Gurion International Airport. Approximately 100 flights in four-day shifts are scheduled to fly the followers of Rabbi Nachman to Kiev and back.
The Ukrainian aviation authorities delayed permission for the first such charter flight by Arkia until four hours before take-off, yesterday at 3 P.M. It is believed that the Ukrainians delayed the authorization because their own national airline was unable to fill the quota of 7,000 seats it was allocated by the recent Israeli-Ukrainian aviation agreement.
In addition to Arkia, three other Israeli companies, El Al, Sun D'Or and Israir will be flying to Kiev, as will the Ukrainian company Aerosvit.
The Israel Airports Authority has set aside a special area in the Ben-Gurion departure terminal for the Bratslav groups.
Israeli security people will also reportedly be flying to Kiev to supervise the security arrangements for the return flights to Israel.
Israir will be using an Airbus A-330 for a series of eight flights to Kiev, beginning today, with a maximum of 1,500 passengers.
Imposing ceilings on the numbers of Hasidim to be flown by the Israeli companies on the eve of Rosh Hashanah is part of the new aviation agreement between Israel and Ukraine. According to the deal, signed last summer, the total number of passengers both countries will be able to fly for this period will increase from 12,000 to 14,000. Each country is allowed to fly a maximum of 7,000 Bratslav Hasidim.
Meanwhile, Israir and Arkia were each allocated 1,500 passengers. El Al, which will operate some of the flights through its subsidiary Sun D'Or, will be able to fly a maximum of 4,000 passengers.
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