The pre-Rosh Hashanah wave of pilgrims to the town of Uman in Ukraine peaked on Monday as around 9,000 boarded 50 flights from Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Another 5,500 pilgrims from the Bratslav Hasidic sect will travel to Ukraine on Tuesday on 28 flights to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman. Overall, some 18,000 Hasidim will travel to the rabbi's grave over three days.
On the eve of his death 200 years ago, Rabbi Nachman couldn't have imagined that his request that his followers not abandon his grave would bring 18,000 of them one year to Uman.
"We smile all the way to Uman," was written in a leaflet distributed in the town of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv. It was meant to encourage believers to cover their eyes with scarves against "forbidden sights."
"Support for flights without movies" is the name of a small group that several years ago encouraged Haredi travelers not to take regular flights unless they had cardboard that could cover the movie screens on the airplane seats in front of them.
This year the idea caught on that immodest sights may also be a threat outside the airplane - in the airport terminal, for example. So pilgrims are being encouraged to bring scarves along.
"In any cloth shop, ask for a thin lycra cloth 70 cm wide (blue, brown or black ) costing about 20 NIS," reads one instruction. "It needs to be about 1.5 meters long ... which is necessary so it will sit well and not flow in the wind."
The leaflet notes that even if people laugh at someone wearing the scarf on his face, those covering their eyes "will be rewarded a thousand fold."
In a telephone interview from Uman, one pilgrim named Avinoam added: "It may sound ridiculous to you, but it has been more successful than expected. I recommend that you try it."
A busy travel week
Many Israelis are taking advantage of the long weekend and are traveling for vacations abroad today. According to data from the Airports Authority, some 48,000 passengers are expected to travel on 302 flights.
On Wednesday, another 41,000 passengers are expected to travel on 258 flights.
El Al's deputy director of trade and air connections, Eli Cohen, said on Monday that "the high demand of the summer is expected to last during the holidays. We expect that demand this year will increase by 12 percent compared with last year.
"We are enjoying high demand to flights for North America, South Africa, and for the direct flights to Sao Paolo. There is also high demand for packages to Asia, Bangkok, Beijing, Mumbai and Hong Kong," he said.