As Rosh Hashanah, the New Year holiday, nears, preparations for the traditional annual pilgrimage to the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav begin.
Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav was a great-grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov and the founder of the Bratslav Hasidic movement, whose name comes from the Ukrainian town of Bratslav, where Rebbe Nachman lived for the last eight years of his life.
In the nineteenth century, the movement experienced a huge growth in followers from countries such as Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Poland. Rebbe Nachman’s philosophy combined in-depth Torah study with Kabbalah, and involved striving for closeness to G-d. He placed a great emphasis on hitbodedut (self-seclusion), an individualized form of prayer and meditation meant to deepen one’s relationship with G-d.
The tradition of the annual pilgrimage to Rebbe Nachman’s gravesite in Uman, Ukraine is rooted in a tradition that began during his lifetime, when thousands of Hasidim would travel to be with him and learn from him during the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Shavuot.
Every year, many followers from Israel and around the world continue the tradition and fly to Uman to pray by the Rebbe’s gravesite around the time of Rosh Hashanah. Yet this year, as Binyamin Gabbai of Derech Tzadikim (a company that organizes trips to the Rebbe’s grave in Uman during this time of year) told Arutz7 on Wednesday, he is convinced that all previous records will be broken.
“This year is a special year and there will likely be more people flying out,” said Gabbai. “The Israeli Airports Authority has issued 18,000 flight permits. Every year in the past, twelve flights went out to Uman. This year there will be nineteen.”
Gabbai added that ticket prices to Uman this year are cheaper. “Because of the large supply prices have dropped. In past years, expensive flights back to Israel immediately after the holiday, cost $1,200. This year you can get [a flight for] $900. Less sought-after flights can cost $750.”
He spoke of a new phenomenon where Jews buy apartments in Ukraine so they have a place to sleep when they visit during the holiday. “There are many individuals who purchase apartments there. They rent throughout the year and live there during Rosh Hashanah.”
According to Gabbai, not just Bratslav Hasidim take part in the pilgrimage to Uman, but rather a wide range of individuals from different communities, including Hareidim, religious-Zionists, members of different Kibbutzim, and even young children. “Rebbe Nachman promised that whoever visits him before the age of seven will not taste sin,” said Gabbai.
Gabbai is calling on everyone to hurry up and register. “We are working furiously here, it’s devotion. I walk in here in the morning and leave at two o'clock at night. To fly this large amount of people is not a simple task, but there is Siyata DiShmaya. Last year we registered people for flights even on the last day before the holiday, and we obtained for them a visa within a few hours. I believe that this year the last flights will also leave on Tuesday [the day before Erev Rosh Hashanah].”