(JTA) — An Israeli rabbi living in the Ukrainian city of Uman died of an infectious flu virus, raising fears that other members of his community there may also be infected.
Rabbi Israel Pinto, the owner of Uman’s kosher Orot hotel, died Wednesday in Israel, where he was flown after being hospitalized with acute pneumonia in Uman and later Odessa, the haredi news site Ch10 reported Thursday.
Some 80 Jewish families, most of them Israeli, live in Uman. Followers of the Breslov Hassidic movement, they moved into the impoverished central Ukrainian city because it is believed to hold the burial site of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary who founded their religious stream. Each year, tens of thousands of Jews come to the grave in Uman for Rosh Hashanah.
“The situation is very chaotic now, the entire community is in panic,” Rabbi Ya’akov Djan, an Uman-based rabbi affiliated with the Breslov Hassidic movement, wrote following Pinto’s death to Israel’s health ministry. He requested Israel send urgently 300 flu vaccines to Ukraine for the Uman community.
Djan later penned a second letter to members of the community, downplaying the risk.
“It is rash and incorrect to say that the ‘swine flu’ is on the loose on out streets,” he wrote. “Each year the same nonsense is revisited, scaring those who come to Uman and those who leave it. With due respect to community leaders, I wish to allay your concerns. We favor the vaccine but the situation is not that frightening.”