In recent years, Uman, Ukraine – home to the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov - has become a premier destination on the Jewish map. Mere days before the holiday of Rosh Hashana, when tens of thousands of Jewish visitors from around the world will be in the city, a historic breakthrough has been made.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has established a special four-member Commission in partnership with the US based Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce to handle Jewish affairs in Uman and ensure an abrupt end to all abuse and corruption. The Commission is chaired by Tigran Yegizaryan, a top presidential aide, who personally visited Uman’s mayor to inform him of the Commission and its determination to change the government’s treatment of Jewish religious leaders, business owners and visitors.
This development was announced at a special news conference in Uman at the Hoshen Hotel, sponsored by hotel proprietor Rabbi Aaron Meyer. The conference featured all four Commission members; the Chamber delegation led by Founder and CEO Duvi Honig; as well as high level Jewish community leaders and government officials from throughout Ukraine. The Interfax News Agency and other major media outlets were present to report on the conference.
Duvi Honig noted that the conference took place virtually simultaneously with US President Donald Trump’s address at the UN’s “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom” event in New York, where the President implored the global community to protect religious freedoms and sites. Mr. Honig has been in close contact and coordination with the White House regarding this issue, and Uman in particular. He noted that developments on the ground in Uman are a fulfillment of President Trump’s vision and directive, in coordination with the Chamber’s global work.
The Chamber’s work in Uman began late summer after it was made aware of the rampant corruption in the city, most notably the local government’s prevention of the construction of a synagogue and community center which would accommodate 30,000 Jews. Plans for development of the center were in place for years. However, when developer Rabbi Yisrael Elhadad refused the municipality’s demands to give a $350,000 bribe, the land was rezoned as a public park and sham criminal charges were filed against Rabbi Elhadad. The Chamber was also made aware of corruption and harassment aimed at other Jewish institutions, including the famed Rabbi Mermelstein’s Shul, where the municipality prevented use of the Shul for Rosh Hashana and intimidated locals from working there.
President Zelensky personally met Mr. Honig in Kiev, who presented the harrowing developments in Uman to the President and his staff. Mr. Honig also raised the issue with top members of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations, who shared their alarm with their Ukrainian counterparts. At a recent news conference with Vice President Mike Pence, President Zelensky vowed a full blown effort to fight corruption in his country. Over the subsequent weeks, particularly in recent days, the Chamber held a series of meetings and conference calls with President Zelensky’s office and other leading officials regarding the establishment of the Commission.
Already at the conference, Commission Chairman Yegizaryanannounced that the construction of the massive synagogue will proceed. The Chairman, who is Jewish, noted that the site of the synagogue is near the site where some 30,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust and will stand as an eternal tribute to their holy souls. Just in time for the massive influx of Rosh Hashana visitors, other facts on the ground have already tangibly changed. Rabbi Mermelstein’s Shul has already been set up for Rosh Hashana and there is a distinct sense of relief and optimism throughout the city. Mr. Honig stressed that the establishment of the Commission and the termination of corruption will encourage untold international investment in Uman, and Ukraine in general, which will greatly boost the region’s economy and quality of life.
“On behalf of Jews worldwide, I cannot adequately thank President Zelensky, members of the Commission and other Ukrainian leaders for responding so swiftly and decisively to the concerns we raised,” says Mr. Honig. “The
Chamber looks forward to continue working together to promote vibrant, safe and corruption free life in Ukraine, as well as countless economic opportunities for entrepreneurs around the world.”