Hasidic Pilgrims, Don't Fly to Uman This Year

Haaretz Editorial
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Bratslav Hasidim at Ben-Gurion International Airport before boarding a plane to Uman, 2007.
Bratslav Hasidim at Ben-Gurion International Airport before boarding a plane to Uman, 2007. Credit: Nir Keidar
Haaretz Editorial

Minister Yaakov Litzman’s demand that coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu resign is an attempt to kill the messenger. The demand comes on the backdrop of the bitter argument about the flights of Hasidim to Uman.

Last Thursday Gamzu sent a letter to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky asking him to halt the event. Gamzu wrote that the anticipated congregating of tens of thousands of believers is likely to have serious consequences for the local community in Uman, and later for the incidence of illness in Israel. Litzman said Gamzu had exceeded his authority, and that he should resign. “I’ve never seen an official send a letter to a president.”

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He may be right, this is an unusual step. If the Israeli government wants to make a request of the Ukrainian government, it is not Gamzu’s job, but that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Netanyahu is bound to coalition agreements with the Haredi factions that are guaranteeing his political survival, and therefore we can’t expect him to dare to anger his loyal partners.

When he assumed the position of coronavirus czar, Gamzu promised to reduce the restrictions to a minimum. The only way to reduce restrictions is to impose them differentially, and to deal with hotspots of increased illness on a local level. An analysis of the daily statistics of coronavirus cases in Israel reveals that the virus is having a greater impact on two populations – Arabs and Haredim. Among the rest of the public the moderate decline in illness is continuing.

The Haredim and Arabs share many characteristics that cause their communities to be more vulnerable to the virus: large families, crowded living conditions, relative low incomes and only partial communication with the authorities. That is the logic behind Gamzu’s “traffic light plan,” which imposes restrictions on cities according to three risk levels: green, yellow and red. That is also the logic behind Gamzu’s letter to the Ukrainian president, and his demand of the coronavirus cabinet to prevent mass flights to Uman.

“The congregating of tens of thousands of people in a single complex will turn Israel into a redder country, and will lead to a lockdown that will harm Israeli citizens, the Torah world, and the Israeli economy,” explained Gamzu. Instead of killing the messenger, they would do better to listen to him. The only way to prevent a general lockdown is to stop the spread of the disease in the hotspots.

The coronavirus has stopped the entire world. In Israel the economy was shut down, schools were closed, cultural events were frozen, and all Israelis, without exception, were forced to change their lifestyle and adapt it to the circumstances of the coronavirus. Because of the virus and for the sake of the fight against it, there is a great deal of logic in the demand being made of the Bratslav Hasidim to refrain from flying to Uman en masse this year.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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