Gov't Help for Israelis Visiting Rabbi’s Grave in Ukraine Sparks Protest

Foreign Ministry will provide special services for pilgrims to grave of Rabbi Nahman of Breslav in Uman.

Jewish pilgrims arrive at Uman.Reuters

Interior Minister Arye Dery has announced that the Foreign Ministry will keep the Israeli Embassy in Ukraine open around the clock for a few days after Rosh Hashanah (October 3-4), so Israelis visiting Uman who lost their passports can have them restored. The state will also provide free transportation from Uman to the embassy in Kiev.

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority has already boosted its telephone hotline to help all those planning to travel to Uman, the burial place of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav.

Thousands of Jews, particularly Bratslav Hasidim, travel to Uman every Rosh Hashanah to spend the holiday at the grave of Rabbi Nahman, who according to tradition promised to intercede in heaven for those who prayed at his grave on the holiday.

The announcements were made only in the religious press. But when MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) got wind of the plans, she complained to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, saying these decisions discriminate against Israeli travelers in other places who don’t get round-the-clock service or free transportation. She asked the attorney general to instruct the ministers to provide services to citizens based on reasonable and equitable criteria.

“It’s inconceivable that only Israelis in Uman will get 24-hour service from the embassy and even free rides to the embassy – and in other places in the world Israelis have to cope with difficulties if they lose their passports,” she said. “During the holidays many families travel to visit and tour outside Israel with small children, and for them losing a passport can be much more difficult than for an individual who travels to Uman during the holiday.”

She added that the presence of so many Israelis in one place that week shouldn’t make a difference. “This doesn’t mean there isn’t a high concentration of Israelis in other countries. Consider the trekking culture among young Israelis in the East and South America, who sometimes need help from the foreign and interior ministries even more because they are abroad for long periods,” she said.

Dery’s office said in response, “The Interior Ministry is prepared at all times to provide service to all Israeli citizens, regardless of religion, race, gender or national background. The special arrangements needed for the flights to Uman in Ukraine for Rosh Hashanah are necessary and proper given the circumstances, because the number of Israeli travelers in recent years has reached 30,000, at a time known in advance and for a short period of 48 hours. The journey of thousands of Israelis in such a short time frame requires special arrangements to reduce bureaucracy and provide optimal service to travelers.”

The Justice Ministry said the issue was not the attorney-general’s responsibility.