Hasidic pilgrims at Ukraine border refuse to return despite Israel plea

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

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.


Global virus death toll passes 1.5 million as nations plan for vaccine

Updated 44 min 2 sec ago

Global virus death toll passes 1.5 million as nations plan for vaccine

Global virus death toll passes 1.5 million as nations plan for vaccine
  • US registers record of more than 210,000 new Covid cases in 24 hours
  • UN chief warns that even if vaccines are quickly approved, the world would still be fighting the pandemic’s aftershocks

WASHINGTON: The world passed the grim milestone of 1.5 million coronavirus deaths on Thursday, as several nations planned to deliver much hoped-for vaccines early next year to break the cycle of lockdowns and restrictions.

The total number of cases worldwide jumped to 65,127,355, according to the John Hopkins University of Medicine's coronavirus monitoring center.

US President-elect Joe Biden said that on his first day in office he would ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days to help reduce transmission of the virus that is again surging in the country with the world’s highest number of deaths and infections.
“I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask — not forever,” Biden said in excerpts of an interview to be broadcast on CNN later Thursday.
But even as the latest positive news about a vaccine was announced, with the Moderna candidate showing it confers immunity for at least three months, several countries marked new Covid-19 records.
The US, for instance, posted an all-time high of more than 210,000 new cases in a 24-hour stretch to Thursday evening, meanwhile notching more than 2,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
And Italy registered 993 deaths, topping its previous record of 969 earlier in the year when it was the first European country to be affected by the pandemic.

To build trust in vaccines after they are approved, the 78-year-old Biden said he was willing to be vaccinated in public — following up on similar commitments from former US presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Biden also used the interview to say he had asked the government’s top infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci to join his Covid team and serve as a chief medical adviser.
But in a sign of the difficult work ahead, California announced new statewide bans on gatherings and non-essential activities, as hospitals in the nation’s most populous state face being overwhelmed.

The pandemic is showing little sign of slowing, with more than 10,000 new deaths recorded worldwide every day since November 24 — a rate never reached before, according to an AFP tally.
As the world tires of economically crippling restrictions, attention has turned to the race for a vaccine.
Britain on Wednesday became the first Western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, piling pressure on other countries to swiftly follow suit.
But Fauci said Britain “rushed” its approval process.
“In all fairness to so many of my UK friends, you know, they kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile,” he told CBS news.
He later walked back his comments, saying he had “a great deal of confidence in what the UK does both scientifically and from a regulator standpoint.”
Also on Thursday, a study showed that the Moderna vaccine, which was recently demonstrated to have 94 percent efficacy, causes the immune system to produce potent antibodies that endure for at least three months.
In anticipation of such vaccines being approved, France announced that its vaccinations will be free and begin in January for one million elderly in retirement homes, February for 14 million at-risk people and spring for the rest of the population.
France was also mourning the latest high-profile figure to succumb to Covid-19, former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who died at the age of 94.
Belgium’s government also said it intends to start vaccinating its most vulnerable in January.
But the raised hopes didn’t only garner the attention of governments — IBM said Thursday that hackers are targeting the Covid-19 vaccine supply chain.
The tech giant said it was “unclear” if a series of cyberattacks it uncovered against companies involved in the effort to distribute doses around the world had been successful.
IBM could not identify who was behind the attacks, but said that the precision of the operation signals “the potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that even if vaccines are quickly approved, the world would still be fighting the pandemic’s aftershocks.
“Let’s not fool ourselves. A vaccine cannot undo damage that will stretch across years, even decades to come,” Guterres said while opening a special UN summit on the virus.
Guterres reiterated his call that vaccines be considered a “global public good” that are shared around the world.
More than 180 countries have joined Covax, a global collaboration initiative by the World Health Organization to work with manufacturers to distribute vaccines equitably.
A reminder of the pandemic’s society-altering effects came again Thursday with a landmark announcement from Warner Bros. studio, which said it will release its entire 2021 slate of movies on HBO Max streaming and in theaters simultaneously.
But some British football supporters were given a reminder of pre-pandemic days as Arsenal welcomed a crowd of 2,000 for Thursday’s Europa League win over Rapid Vienna.
It was the first time in 270 days that fans were back inside a Premier League ground.