Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday appointed Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin to lead a ministerial team charged with working out a plan that would allow Chassidic Jews to visit Uman in accordance with strict Ukrainian public-health measures.
The team includes Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Interior Minister Arye Deri and Science Minister Izhar Shay.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Wednesday that his country would ban the entry of foreigners through the end of September. In part, the ban aims to avoid the crowds of tens of thousands of Chassidic faithful who flock to Uman every year to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
A letter written by Israel’s national coronavirus project coordinator Ronni Gamzu to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is believed to have played a major role in convincing Kiev to announce the ban, according to Kan. Gamzu apologized last week for bypassing the country’s political echelon to appeal directly to Zelenskyy, after being criticized by coalition chairman Miki Zohar (Likud) and Housing and Construction Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism).
Gamzu has taken a firm stance against visits to Uman this year, saying that the pilgrimage “could send Israel into a lockdown” by starting a COVID-19 outbreak.
Health Minister Edelstein said last week that “unfortunately, a sense of national responsibility says that this is not the time to fly to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Uman.”