As thousands of people around the globe attended Chasidic gatherings to celebrate the birthday 310 years ago of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, more than 200 Jewish community members from Odessa, Ukraine, traveled through the night to pray at his holy resting place in the town of Mezibush.

A smaller contingent from Poltava made the four hour drive to Haditch to visit the resting place of the First Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who was born exactly 47 years after the Baal Shem Tov. The anniversary of that date began Wednesday night, the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Elul.

In Odessa, the four busses commissioned by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Avraham Wolff – the city’s chief rabbi – carried boys and men of all ages, from older community members to young professionals, university students and alumni of the local Ohr Avner Chabad Day School. A large group of students from the community’s STARS youth program received scholarships to make the journey in recognition of their academic excellence.

“I came to pray at the grave for the third year in a row,” said Odessa native Baruch Piligman, who this year invited friends and neighbors for the trip.

“I ask G‑d for everything that I need at the site,” said Piligman, 45. “It really helps prepare for Rosh Hashanah.”

An ancient Jewish custom, praying at the resting place of a righteous person is considered by the Kabbalah to arouse Divine mercy. Participants prepared for the trip by learning about the significance of the month before Rosh Hashanah – a time for spiritual stocktaking – and the shared birthday of the two Chasidic luminaries. Known colloquially as Chai Elul – the Hebrew word chai both has the numerical equivalent of 18 and means “life” – the date also marks when the 1734 beginning of the Baal Shem Tov’s public disseminations of Chasidic teachings.

“We didn’t sleep at all,” Rabbi Schneur Zalman Vigler, principal of Odessa’s Ohr Avner school, said of the excitement of the trip, which involved a nine-hour ride across the countryside to arrive at 6 a.m. “From year to year, the number of travelers keeps growing.”

The group was planning to leave the western Ukraine town of Mezibush Thursday evening for another all-night journey back home.

In Poltava, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yosef and Dina Segal, directors of the local Jewish community, led a small delegation to the resting place of the First Chabad Rebbe, author of the Tanya and a codifier of Jewish law. He reported that most people go to the site in Haditch on the 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the anniversary of the first Rebbe’s release from prison after being falsely accused of treason for his dissemination of Chasidic teachings.