The saga has been going on for over a decade.
Israeli businessman Yisrael Elhadad of Uman Jerusalem Connections LTD acquired a large parcel of land in Uman, Ukraine, near the Kever of Rav Nachman of Breslov zt”l. He planned on building a massive Jewish center that would encompass a Shul for approximately 20,000 mispallelim in addition to a mikvah. The need was great, as there currently is no large Shul in the city, even as tens of thousands of Jews come from around the world for Rosh Hashana alone. The Uman City Council approved the plans.
Then corruption reared its ugly head. The Town Council demanded from Yisrael a payment of $350,000 as bribe to allow the project to proceed. Yisrael refused. The Council then rezoned the property as a public park and began doing site work – effectively stealing the land from Yisrael and preventing a Shul from being built. Battling brazen corruption at this level is no simple feat. At a loss, Yisrael and several Jewish community leaders from Ukraine turned the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber immediately got to work, reaching out to the highest echelons of the diplomatic world in the US, Israel and Ukraine. Last Thursday, Duvi Honig, Founder and CEO of The Chamber, led a delegation to Uman to gain a firsthand view of the site in question and the destruction that the corruption has led to.
Subsequently, Mr. Honig held a press conference in Kiev at the Interfax News Agency headquarters, which was attended by dozens of news agencies and followed closely by aides to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky.
Mr. Honig pleaded with the President, who is Jewish, to keep his promise to enable to rise of “Little Jerusalem” in Uman, adding, “There may be a good wave of investments that can help Umanand Ukraine prosper…But this may not happen because of corruption.” The conference and subsequent meetings with various government officials made waves. Just three days later, on Monday, President Zelensky held a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Honig to discuss the crisis in Uman, shortly before the President held his first ever meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials. President Zelensky took the issue of Uman very seriously. He vowed in no uncertain terms to get to the bottom of the corruption and allow the Shul construction by its rightful owner to proceed. The President already sent a delegation of top aides to Uman to address local officials. He also shared developments with members of the Israeli delegation. “I would like to thank President Zelensky for his swift action and determination to fight corruption and help the Jewish community; and we look forward to a quick resolution of this matter,” says Mr. Honig. “It is an honor that The Chamber has once again served as a vehicle to fight on behalf of Jewish community business and communal interests and forge mutually beneficial relationships - around the world.”