The conquered city

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.


Leżajsk (Poland), March 2016. Hasidic pilgrims in Lezajsk to pray on the grave of the tzadik Elimelech of Lizhensk, one of the most important tzadik for Hasidic Jews. Every year, Hasidic pilgrims from all over the world travel to Poland to pray on the graves of their tzadiks, on the anniversary of their death (in Yiddish, yarhzeit).

Leżajsk (Poland), March 2016. A Polish resident observe Hasidic pilgrims arrived in town to pray on the grave of the tzadik Elimelech of Lizhensk. Every year, Hasidic pilgrims from all over the world travel to Poland to pray on the graves of their tzadiks, on the anniversary of their death (in Yiddish, yarhzeit).

Lelów (Poland), January 2016. Hasidic pilgrims praying at the grave of the tzadik David Biderman, one of the most important tzadik in Poland. After the Jewish cemetery was destroyed by Nazi, and neglected afterwards, Its grave was recovered in the '80s by the lelow Hasidic community living in Israel. Since then, every year, Hasidic pilgrims travel to Lelów to pray on the grave of the tzadik, on the anniversary of its death (in Yiddish, yarhzeit).

Leżajsk (Poland), March 2016. A young woman prays at the grave of zaddik Elimelech Weissblum on the occasion of the anniversary of its death. At the pilgrimage site, both the access to the shrine and the prayer areas are rigidly separated between men and women.

Lelów (Poland), January 2016. A traditional dance in circles around the fire concludes the celebrations for the anniversary of the death of the tzadik David Biderman. Every year, Hasidic pilgrims from all over the world travel to Poland to pray on the graves of their tzadiks, on the anniversary of their death (in Yiddish, yarhzeit).

Lelów (Poland), January 2016. A Hasidic pilgrim sitting aside at the tish, the celebration concluding the Shabat during the pilgrimage to the grave of the tzadik David Biderman, one of the most important in Poland. During the tish, pilgrims gather around the rebbe, dance and sing. Every year, Hasidic pilgrims from all over the world travel to Poland to pray on the graves of their tzadiks, on the anniversary of their death (in Yiddish, yarhzeit).

Lezajsk (Poland), March 2016. A menorah outside the shrine hosting the grave of the tzadik Elimelech of Lizhensk during the celebrations for the anniversary of his death, when thousands of Hasidic Jews travel to the town from all over the world.

Leżajsk (Poland), March 2016. Young girls sing and dance in the canteen for women during the pilgrimage to the grave of the tzadik Elimelech of Lizhensk, one of the most important tzadik for Hasidic Jews.

Lelow (Poland), March 2017. Countryside around the town of Lelow in Southern Poland, where thousands of Hasidic Jews travel in pilgrimage every year on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of the tzadik David Biderman. The pilgrimage, which gathers hundreds of pilgrims from all over the world, takes place in winter time.

Leżajsk (Poland), March 2016. Hasidic pilgrims pray on the grave of the tzadik Elimelech of Lizhensk. As the pilgrimages goes by and the number of pilgrims increases, it is more and more difficult to enter the shrine and many remain outside to pray.

Leżajsk (Poland), March 2016. Two Hasidic pilgrims, a woman and a man, talk through the plastic foil separating the access to the shrine where the tzadik Elimelech of Lizhensk is buried. At the pilgrimage site, both the access to the shrine and the prayer areas are rigidly separated between men and women.

Lelów (Poland), January 2016. Hasidic pilgrims pray in the ohel, the shrine hosting tzadik David Biderman's grave, one of the most important tzadiks in Poland. Every year, Hasidic pilgrims from all over the world travel to Poland to pray on the graves of their tzadiks, on the anniversary of their death (in Yiddish, yarhzeit).