Ukraine to Restrict Jewish Pilgrimage in Response to Israel Plea

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Hasidic Jewish pilgrims pray on a bank of a lake near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah in Uman, Ukraine, September 21, 2017.
Hasidic Jewish pilgrims pray on a bank of a lake near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah in Uman, Ukraine, September 21, 2017.Credit: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Ukraine said on Tuesday it would limit the number of Hasidic Jews from Jews planning to enter the country for an annual pilgrimage after Israel voiced feared the event would be a coronavirus hotspot.

"At the request of the Prime Minister of Israel, a decision was made to significantly restrict the Hasidic pilgrimage to Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjain Netanyahu’s office denied in a statement any Israeli request to cap the number of pilgrims. 

It did not say how many Hasidic Jews would be allowed into Ukraine for the event or give any further detail.

The head of Israel's coronavirus task force has asked Zelenskiy to ban the annual pilgrimage outright because of concerns the central Ukrainian town of Uman could be a hotbed of coronavirus contagion.

Zelenskiy's office has declined to comment on whether Kyiv might ban the Hasidic pilgrimage entirely, not just limit it.

Israel is among a series of countries from which any travellers to Ukraine must quarantine themselves for 14 days after arrival. Israel registered 230.6 new infections per 100,000 of its population last week while Ukraine's rate was 54.9.

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews descend on Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, who revived the Hasidic movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and died in 1810.

Rosh Hashanah celebrations this year run from September 18-20.

The Ukrainian and Israeli governments have issued a joint statement pleading with pilgrims to cancel their trips, but significant numbers are still planning to go.

Noa Shpigel contributed to this report.

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