Every year, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews travel to Poland from all over the world to pray on the graves of the tsaddikim, the spiritual masters of Hasidism. Eastern Europe is the historic cradle of Hasidism, the ultra-orthodox branch of Judaism, Despite today almost 90% of all Hasidic Jews in the world live in Israel and in the US, deep religious, cultural and emotional connections with Eastern Europe are actively kept alive. For contemporary Hasidim, Eastern Europe remains a mythical and holy land, which holds the essence of faith and the symbols of belonging: the spoils of the tsaddikim. A land often more imaginary than real, with weak to no connections to Eastern Europe in its current geographical and political dimensions. In Leżajsk, a town of around 13 thousands inhabitants in South-Eastern Poland, thousands of Jews ood the streets on the annual memorial day of the tsaddik Elimelech of Lizhensk, held on the anniversary of his death. During the event, the streets resonate again of the language, prayers and music of Hasidic Jews. As it was before World War II, when around one third of the population in Leżajsk was Jewish. e city is conquered.
Ritual pilgrimages to the grave of the tsaddik, traditionally a religious duty for Hasidic Jews, stopped with the Holocaust and the brutal and almost total disappearance of the Hasidic world of Eastern Europe. Only after the fall of communist regimes in the former Soviet bloc, travel possibilities improved and this practice slowly revived. Today, an ever-increasing number of Hasidim annually travel to smaller towns and bigger cities in Poland and Eastern Europe to pray on the graves of the tsaddikim, each time reviving the connection with the motherland.
In the background the contradictions of a country, Poland, which on one side slowly and relentlessly re-appropriates of its own multi-cultural roots, where Jews played a large role, and on the other strongly advocates preserving its own present day ethnic, religious and linguistic homogeneity – largely a result of the ethnic cleansing of Second World War and of forty years of communist rule.