South Carolina congressman calls on Ukraine to let Jews into Uman

Written by on August 29, 2020

Approximately 30,000 Jews made the pilgrimage every year prior the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic.

JEWISH PILGRIMS pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in Uman, Ukraine, September 20, 2017. (photo credit: VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS)

JEWISH PILGRIMS pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in Uman, Ukraine, September 20, 2017.

(photo credit: VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS)

Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC) has started circulating a letter among members of the US House of Representatives that calls on President Donald Trump to use his power to pressure the Ukrainian government to issue exemptions for Jews wishing to visit the city of Uman, the resting place Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, according to a Jewish Insider report on Friday.

The campaign to pressure the Ukrainian government comes amid the recent closure to foreign visitors out of fear that admitting a large group of Jewish pilgrims from Israel and elsewhere can lead to a greater spread of coronavirus in the country. The annual pilgrimage, despite acting as a major event for bringing capital and tourist dollars to Uman, is also known for rowdy parties and fervent communal pray, which has heightened Ukrainian fears. 

The letter is also addressed to Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, which asks him to “consider advocating on behalf [of]  a group of American citizens whom find this annual pilgrimage extremely important,” according to the Jewish Insider. The congressman suggested in the letter that exceptions be issued to visitors on the basis that they pay for the coronavirus testing and quarantine themselves upon landing. 

“The Ukrainian government could add a limited religious exception allowing for a small fraction of the regular attendees (not to exceed 2000 people) to enter the country for a total of five days,” the letter read. 

Ukraine’s decision to close its border until the end of September also came at the behest of Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, who has been a vocal critic of the annual pilgrimage in light of the spike of coronaviurs diagnoses in Israel. Gamzu himself requested from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to ban Israelis from entering the country to visit Uman, leading to public disputes between the former and members of Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox political parties. 

Approximately 30,000 Jews make the pilgrimage every year to visit the gravesite of Rabbi Nahman Breslov, a founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement and highly influential figure that emphasized personal happiness in day-to-day life. 

Violent clashes have already taken place on Friday between Uman locals and hassidic pilgrims who recently arrived in the Ukrainian city, according to Ynet. 

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