(JTA) — An Israeli rabbi living in Ukraine died of an infectious flu virus, raising fears that other members of his community there may also be infected.
Rabbi Israel Pinto, owner of the kosher Orot Hotel in the central Ukrainian city of Uman, died Wednesday in Israel, where he was flown after being hospitalized with acute pneumonia in Uman and later Odessa, the haredi Orthodox news site Ch10 reported Thursday.
Some 80 Jewish families, most of them Israeli, live in Uman. Followers of the Breslov Hasidic movement, they moved into the impoverished city because it is believed to be the burial site of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary who founded their religious stream. Each year, tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims visit his grave there for Rosh Hashanah.
“The situation is very chaotic now, the entire community is in panic,” Rabbi Yaakov Djan, an Uman-based rabbi affiliated with the Breslov movement, wrote following Pinto’s death to Israel’s Health Ministry. He sent an urgent request that Israel send 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 our 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.”