Magen David Adom goes to Ukraine to keep Jews safe during Rosh HaShanah pilgrimage


MDA anticipates administering 10,000 Covid tests to ensure people returning from the grave of Rav Nachman of Breslov don’t further spread the Delta variant.

Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s paramedic and Red Cross service, will be sending as many as 70 EMTs and paramedics to Ukraine, where they’ll be administering Covid tests to Orthodox Jews before they return to Israel following their annual Rosh HaShanah pilgrimage to the grave of an 18th-century rabbi.

MDA anticipates they’ll swab as many as 10,000 Israelis in Ukraine, who annually go to the city of Uman to pay homage to Nachman of Breslov, an influential rabbi who was a great-grandson of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the founder of the Jewish Hasidic movement.

“All Israelis making the pilgrimage have to be tested up to 72 hours prior to boarding their planes for Ukraine, as is the current routine in Israel,” said Eli Bin, director-general of Magen David Adom. “However, we’ll be administering tests prior to them boarding their return flights to ensure that they’re not bringing additional cases of Covid back to Israel either.”

As Israel’s representative to the Red Cross movement, Magen David Adom will be working with the Ukrainian Red Cross on the ground to ensure the arriving worshippers are aware of local Covid restrictions and are well-versed on how to maximize safety precautions.

To optimize the testing protocol, MDA will be using Rapid Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAAT), which detects viral RNA. The Rapid NAAT tests produce results in 30 minutes, only slightly longer than a rapid antigen test, but at an accuracy rate more akin to a PCR Test, which typically takes 24 hours for results. Israelis will be charged about the equivalent of $20 for the test.

“Magen David Adom has taken on this national mission to enable Israelis coming back from Ukraine to be tested,” Bin explained. “We see this as our role as Israel’s national EMS organization and as part of our ongoing activities in our global fight against Covid.”

MDA paramedics and EMTs will begin arriving just before the eve of the Rosh HaShanah holiday on Sunday and Monday and begin administering the nasal swabs at as many as 25 testing checkpoints, both in Uman and at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv.

“With observant Jews traveling back from Ukraine and then almost certainly attending Yom Kippur services in Israel the following week, it’s crucial that we not let the High Holidays — a time of joy and solemn introspection — become a time of worry and sadness because of a super-spreader event,” Bin said. “An aggressive proactive approach will enable Jews to celebrate this special season while mitigating risks during this pandemic.”

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