Approximately 1,000 Bratzlav Hassidim and their admirers are making their pilgrimage this week to Uman, a small city in Ukraine, to visit the grave of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, the sect‘s founder.
Tuesday, the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, marks the rabbi’s 232nd birthday.
Rabbi Nahman had encouraged his followers to continue to visit his grave before he died at the age of 38.
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the trek has become increasingly popular among Jews of all religious streams, and some 17,000 visitors are said to have filled the city last Rosh Hashana. Other favored times to visit are Hanukka and Shavuot.
Rabbi Nahman’s teachings have become increasingly trendy among religious students for his emphasis on the importance of happiness and simple prayer in the service of God.
There is also a common belief that the repetition of his name in a certain fashion (as made famous by the stickers and graffiti on buildings throughout the country), can bring good luck. This belief, however, is disapproved of by most mainstream Bratzlavers.
The popularity of the Uman trek has given rise to a small industry. A 16-page publication put out periodically by the World Committee of Bratzlav Chassidim advertises six travel agencies that specialize in Uman, including transport and lodging offers, and special discounts to holders of the “UmanCard.”