Hasidic pilgrims at Ukraine border refuse to return despite Israel plea

Hasidic Jewish pilgrims at a Belarus/Ukraine border crossing, September 16, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Hasidic pilgrims at Ukraine border refuse to return despite Israel plea

  • The mainly American, French and Israeli believers departed for Uman this year even though both the Ukrainian and Israeli governments last month urged them not to travel
  • A video released by Ukraine’s border guards on Thursday showed tents and sleeping bags on the roadside along with piles of garbage

KIEV: Around 1,000 Hasidic Jews were massed on Ukraine’s border Thursday, with some vowing to stay, even though Kiev refused their entry citing coronavirus restrictions and Israel urged them to return.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews travel to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year — which falls on September 18-20 this year — to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
The mainly American, French and Israeli believers departed for Uman this year even though both the Ukrainian and Israeli governments last month urged them not to travel because of the pandemic.
Kiev has closed its borders for most of the month of September but the pilgrims attempted to bypass the restrictions by traveling through Belarus.
Speaking to AFP from the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, one of ultra-Orthodox pilgrims, Itsik Cohen, said the believers were hoping for divine intervention.
“I’m waiting and praying that they open the borders, so we can have the privilege of being with our Rabbi, God willing,” said Cohen, an Israeli Breslov Hassid from Jerusalem.
“We believe in God, and if God wants it this way, we need to do anything we can to show our determination, to the very last minute.”
Ukrainian authorities said the situation had not changed since Monday when crowds of believers began building up on the closed Ukraine border and pilgrims were still refusing to leave.
A video released by Ukraine’s border guards on Thursday showed tents and sleeping bags on the roadside along with piles of garbage.
“They are dancing, they are singing, they are praying,” the spokesman for the Ukrainian border guard service, Andriy Demchenko, told AFP.
He said that some 1,000 pilgrims had reached the no-man’s land at several border crossings, while the total number of believers in Belarus hoping to cross was closer to 2,000.
Ultra-Orthodox members of the Israeli coalition had pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to enable the tradition, despite the objection of health officials who feared the crowded mass event would increase contagion.
But an Israeli minister indicated Thursday that efforts to enable ultra-Orthodox believers’ access to Uman had failed.
“Ukraine announced it wouldn’t allow entry via border crossings or any form of small delegation,” Higher Education and Water Minister Zeev Elkin, who is Ukrainian-born, said on Twitter.
“I call on our citizens to return to Israel and uphold the quarantine instructions upon their arrival.”
Moshe Garcin, a 44-year-old pilgrim who arrived in Uman days before Ukraine closed its borders, told AFP that “it’s not for them (Israel government) to say this.”
And pilgrim Cohen dismissed the Israeli minister’s call.
“Elkin doesn’t determine the reality, there’s a God in the world,” he said.
Both Ukraine and Israel are keen to avoid a spike in coronavirus infections, with Kiev closing the borders to foreigners until late September.
Israel is set to be the first developed country to enforce a second nationwide shutdown, to begin on Friday afternoon.
The Belarus border guard service said 1,216 people had attempted to cross since Monday, including 337 children.
The pilgrims’ standoff on the border has led to diplomatic tensions between Ukraine and Belarus.
Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday accused Belarus of giving them false hope of entering despite the restrictions by spreading “rumors” that the Ukrainian border may still be open to foreigners.
Minsk has called on Kiev to open dialogue with the pilgrims and show respect for their rights.
“The Red Cross came and gave us water, hot water and cold water and tea, and provided medical care to whoever needed it,” pilgrim Cohen said.
Meanwhile, up to 3,000 Hasidic Jews have arrived in Uman for the celebrations, local police said. Law enforcement has tightened security near Rabbi Nachman’s tomb where pilgrims have congregated.
Ukraine has reported more than 166,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,400 fatalities.
On Thursday, Ukraine reported a new daily record of 3,584 coronavirus infections.


Study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine follows genetic instructions

Updated 22 October 2020

Study finds AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine follows genetic instructions

  • Bristol University virology expert David Matthews: The vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness
  • AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against COVID-19

LONDON: AstraZeneca’s Oxford COVID-19 vaccine accurately follows the genetic instructions programmed into it by its developers to successfully provoke a strong immune response, according to a detailed analysis carried out by independent UK scientists.
“The vaccine is doing everything we expected and that is only good news in our fight against the illness,” said David Matthews, an expert in virology from Bristol University, who led the research.
AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against COVID-19.
The first data from late-stage large-scale clinical trials being conducted in several countries around the world, including Brazil, the United States and Britain, are expected to be released before the end of the year.
The vaccine — known either as ChAdOx1 or AZD1222 — is made by taking a common cold virus called an adenovirus from chimpanzees and deleting about 20% of the virus’s instructions. This means it is impossible for the vaccine to replicate or cause disease in humans.
The Bristol researchers’ focus was to assess how often and how accurately the vaccine is copying and using the genetic instructions programmed into it by its designers. These instructions detail how to make the spike protein from the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19.
Once the spike protein is made, the immune system reacts to it, training the immune system to identify a real COVID-19 infection.
“This is an important study as we are able to confirm that the genetic instructions underpinning this vaccine ... are correctly followed when they get into a human cell,” Matthews said in a statement about the work.
His team’s research was not peer reviewed by other scientists, but was published as a preprint before review.