Chassidism is a movement in Jewish religion that became a spiritual lifeline to Eastern European Jews in the first half of 18th century. It brought the mysticism of Kabala and the concept of connecting with the Almighty into over-rationalized Judaism of that time.
It blossomed in small Ukrainian towns Bretzlav, Uman, Mezhibozh, Berdichev and later spread in other countries. Despite anti-Semitism Jews stayed in Ukraine till WWII when Germans came and peppered the country with 5-figure mass graves. Many of those who survived emigrated in recent decades.
Abandoned cemeteries and graves of Tzaddikim, great Rabbis can still be found in Ukraine and Chassidic Jews from all over the world visit them for Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year. Most of them gather in Uman where Rabbi Nachman is buried.
Estimates vary, but somewhere between 20 and 30 thousand pilgrims come each year boosting the economy of this provincial town. Within two weeks Jews spend enough money for the locals to live off for months.
Berdichev gets much less attention, most Chassid’s just stop by the grave of Rabbi Levy Yitzchak. The larger synagogue is still being used as a factory here, the smaller is opened, but is mostly empty. Most Berdichev Jews either left or assimilated.
The grave of Holy Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism is in Mezhibozh. As the name implies it’s located where two rivers merge. What used to be a flourishing trade center is now a village of some 900 people. A strange analogy with Egypt comes to mind. Once the Jews left it, they were not supposed to come back.
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