The country instituted the ban on foreigners from Friday until Sept. 28. This year, Jewish New Year celebrations run from Sept. 18 to Sept. 20. Infections in Ukraine had already been rising sharply because of outbreaks linked partly to gatherings for weddings and Orthodox Christian religious ceremonies in the west of the country.
Still, the decision to close the borders again was met with a wave of criticism in Ukraine. European Pravda, a business newspaper, said it would “punish investors.”
The government took pains to explain the closure was strictly on public health grounds. “We do not make decisions based on discriminatory criteria,” the minister of foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, said during an online briefing.
Mr. Kuleba said that Rosh Hashanah has been recognized as a national holiday in Ukraine and that the recognition is “an indication of how much we respect the key holidays of communities living in Ukraine.” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, became the country’s first Jewish leader last year.
Israel’s lead adviser on the virus, Ronni Gamzu, has sent a letter to Mr. Zelensky supporting the suspension of the pilgrimage this year, Reuters reported. “A gathering of this sort, at such troubled times, is expected to generate mass events of infection of tourists and local Ukrainian residents, turning into a heavy burden on local medical systems, while thousands more are expected to come back to Israel and further spread the virus,” he said.
Before the decision to close the border was made, the governor of the Uman region, Oleksandr Tserbiy, spent a night in a tent near the presidential office in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to protest in favor of canceling the pilgrimage.
On Thursday night in Uman, clashes took place between locals and Hasidic Jews who had arrived early to celebrate. Pilgrims were not allowed to go to the rabbi’s tomb. The police intervened to separate the two groups.