August 20, 2019

Israel’s Measles Outbreak Began in Uman, Ukraine

UMAN, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 14: Hasidic pilgrims pray along a river, not far from the burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov on September 14, 2015 in Uman, Ukraine. Every year, tens of thousands of Hasidim gather for Rosh Hashanah in the city to pray at the holy site. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s measles outbreak took off in September after thousands of mostly Hasidic Orthodox pilgrims brought the virus back from Uman, Ukraine.

Tens of thousands of Jews gather in the central Ukrainian city each year on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, near what many believe is the burial site of Rabbi Nachman, an 18th-century luminary.

Ukraine’s measles outbreak began in 2017 and has had almost 70,000 cases, The New York Times reported Wednesday. In late September, following Rosh Hashanah and the annual Uman pilgrimage, measles cases exploded in Israel, to 949 in October, according to the newspaper, citing Dr. Patrick O’Connor, leader of the rapid disease control team at the World Health Organization’s European office, which oversees Israel. The cause is believed to be the numerous pilgrims who returned from Ukraine with the virus.

Meanwhile, a measles outbreak in New York began in October with a child in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn who had visited Israel. Also in October, an outbreak began among Orthodox Jews in London.

Israel’s measles outbreak began in March 2018, according to O’Conner, in a small Orthodox community in Safed, in the northern part of the country.

Orthodox Jews in Israel for the most part do not have a problem with vaccines, which are provided free there. However, large Orthodox families often are not careful about making sure all their children have their vaccinations.

Vaccination rates among the Orthodox in Israel are in the 80 percent range, and the virus spreads quicker as Orthodox children attend more life-cycle events such as weddings and circumcisions, giving them more opportunity to be exposed.