Rebbe Nachman's gravesite in Uman, Ukraine
Rebbe Nachman's gravesite in Uman, UkraineiStock

The Knesset’s Economic Committee, headed by MK Michael Biton, has authorized a government request to implement new restrictions at the country’s main airport.

The new restrictions will remain in place until September 20. In addition, all those traveling to Ukraine (from August 29 to September 6), including those with immunity or vaccination certificates, will have to present a negative coronavirus test taken up to 72 hours before boarding their flights out.

Health Ministry representatives explained that the restrictions are designed to limit the spread of the virus, and also stressed that there is already at least one documented serious case of coronavirus in Uman.

Another regulation that was approved today stipulates that any airline carrier or passenger who flouts the rules and attempts to exit the country without a negative test result will be fined NIS 2500. Anyone who has recently recovered from a bout of coronavirus and whose test results are still positive will be able to appeal to the Exceptions Committee for permission to fly.

Ukraine, however, allows all those with immunity or vaccination certificates to enter the country freely, and does not test new arrivals for Covid-19 unless they have no certificate.

At Thursday’s committee meeting, MK Biton asked the government to explain the rationale behind the new regulations, and Attorney Fuchs replied that since there will be large public gatherings in Uman lasting hours at a time, the government wants to ensure that people do not contract coronavirus there and then spread it when they return home. He admitted that the proposed regulations will not stop transmission one hundred percent.

The head of the international relations department in the Health Ministry, Dr. Asher Salmon, added that people who travel to Uman for three to four days of prayer will be participating in packed gatherings with little possibility of observing social distancing. “In the past, we have seen infected people leaving the country and infecting others, who then return home. There are already people with Covid-19 in Uman,” he added, “and one seriously ill person has been flown home.”

Committee head Biton then asked if anyone had traveled out to Ukraine before the new restrictions were implemented, and Salmon replied that around 7000 Israelis were already in Uman, although the majority of those traveling to Uman would be leaving between Thursday and Sunday – another approximately 20,000 people from Israel and another thousand or two from other parts of the world.

Biton then asked if the government was coordinating its efforts with Breslov leaders, and was told that the matter was being handled by the Religious Affairs Ministry, which was in contact with officials from Breslov communities.

Biton also questioned the apparent singling-out of those traveling to Uman for penalties, and was told by the legal adviser to the Civil Aviation Authority that the penalty being discussed was applicable to all travelers.

The legal adviser also assured Biton that the government’s preparations for this year’s travel to Uman were far more comprehensive than last year, to which Biton responded that the fact that thousands of people had been left stranded on the border between Belarus and Ukraine last year was a “disgrace.”

Last year, Ukraine’s borders remained open to all foreigners up until the last week before Rosh Hashanah, when they suddenly shut their gates, following a request of the Israeli government’s coronavirus project manager, warning of “mass contagion” if Ukraine allowed thousands of Jews to travel to Uman.

Biton then concluded the discussion prior to the vote by noting that people traveled to Uman for Rosh Hashanah in order to connect to the soul of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who is buried there, and he quoted two of Rebbe Nachman’s most well-known teachings.

“[Rebbe Nachman] said that if you believe that people can ruin things, believe that they can correct them too,” he said. “And, Rebbe Nachman also said that each person must say to himself: ‘The entire world was created for my sake.’ That might sound sociopathic to some people,” Biton said, but that is not the meaning of the teaching.

“Rather, what it means is that if the entire world was created for my sake, then I must constantly be seeking ways to perfect the world and correct its deficiencies. Since the world was created for each and every one of us, each of us is uniquely responsible for the state of the world,” he explained.