Fire hits Jewish cemetery in Uman, heatwave blamed

Authorities say heatwave is suspect as at least 2,000 Jews ignore pandemic and gather to celebrate Jewish New Year in city.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

A brush fire burned through the old Jewish cemetery in Uman, Ukraine where 2,000 Jews have gathered ahead of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, Ukrainian media reported Monday.

The press service of the national firefighting service said the grass fire on the grounds of the cemetery may have been caused by high temperatures that hit 33 degrees (91 Fahrenheit). No injuries were reported.

About two thousand Hasidic pilgrims have so far arrived in Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the news website Letters reported.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ukraine has restricted the annual pilgrimage to the city that is home to the grave of Rabbi Nachaman of Breslov, the revered founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect who died 200 years ago.

Tens of thousands of his followers normally flock to Uman annually seeking a higher level of spirituality for the two days of Rosh Hashana prayers that mark the beginning of the 10 days of repentance leading up to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

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Two weeks ago a joint statement by the leaders of both Israel and Ukraine urged followers to stay home due to the pandemic.

“Following the recommendations and warnings of the Ministries of Health of Ukraine and Israel, we urge all pilgrims who have planned or are planning to take part in this year’s Rosh Hashana celebrations in Ukraine to refrain from visiting the city of Uman due to the threatening epidemiological situation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a joint statement with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian report said the 2,000 Hasidic pilgrims arrived in Ukraine before a government resolution on closing the border came into force.

While the followers of the rabbi were seen walking in the streets without masks, at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman everybody was wearing a protective mask, which were distributed at the entrance to the tomb, the report said.