14 Tamuz 5779 / Wednesday, July 17, 2019 | Torah Reading: Pinchas
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Uman, Uman    

Uman, Uman

The Israelis in Uman were caring; they were kind; they were sincere; they were real – there was no pretence in Uman. They were fired up with a love of G-d...


In the middle of all the decisions about needing to move, and all the worry about what was happening with the kids, and all the praying about where on earth to move to, my husband came home two weeks ago with a present for me that he thought would help: a trip to Uman, to the grave of Rabbi Nachman. He took a week off work, sorted everything out, and sent me off to the Ukraine last Sunday, with an organisation called ‘Lev HaDvarim’, run by a Breslev Rabbi and writer named Erez Moshe Doron.

Strangely, I wasn’t that keen to go. I knew I had to – I didn’t seem to be making much progress by myself – but I was a bit scared of what I’d find in Uman. And probably most of all, I was scared of not finding anything much at all in Uman, and then what would I do?
It’s a short flight to the Ukraine from Israel, around two and a half hours, and I only got to meet the rest of the group once we’d landed in Boryspil Airport. There were around 70 of us, 50 women and 20 men, all different ages and backgrounds. It was snowing and very cold, dark and late, so I didn’t pay much attention to the other people or the surroundings.
We got to Uman around 2am, and went straight to our (very basic) lodgings. I didn’t even say hello to my three other roommates; I just went straight to sleep. The following morning, I woke up, got changed and went to the main hospitality area in Uman, about a two minute walk from the gravesite, and tried to eat breakfast.
I couldn’t. All the anxiety and fear that had come to a head in the previous few weeks was still weighing on me, and I barely ate half a pita before I decided I just had to get to the kever, the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman. I’d already decided that I had to do six hours, and as I walked into the kever, I started crying.
I think it was relief that I’d finally made it there, although I also felt that I still really didn’t know why I’d come. What would I find in the Ukraine that I couldn’t get in Israel?
I did six hours of hitbodedut, and I started to feel better. My anxiety level dropped to around a 5 out of ten; but I wanted it to go away entirely. I really, really wanted to have simple emuna, and to just stop worrying about everything.
I went back to my room to hang out for an hour before supper, and met my other roommates. We were all the same age, and living in Israel. But that was where the similarities ended. One roommate was looking for a shidduch; one was looking for comfort and healing; and one had come because her husband had got fired up by his trip to Uman on Rosh Hashana, and she wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
The next day, I went back for another six hours, and again, I felt a bit better – but not so much. My yetzer hara started to goad me with the additional worry that even Uman, even Rabbi Nachman, even hours and hours and hours of prayer wasn’t going to crack the fear.
I knew that the main problem was that I didn’t trust G-d. But hard as I’d been praying for real emuna and bitachon, it simply wasn’t coming. I thought I’d eat supper, and then try another six hours. But Hashem, in His wisdom, decreed otherwise.
There were a couple of well-known Israeli singers in my group, and they decided (back in Israel…) that they were going to play a gig in Uman. They bought their electric guitars, their keyboard, their drums – the whole shebang. After supper, they set up in the hospitality hall – and the music was simply amazing.
It was amazing, to be sitting in the middle of cold, anti-Semitic, hostile Ukraine and to be singing songs in Hebrew about emuna, Eretz Israel, G-d and rebuilding our Holy Temple.
Then came the breakthrough: one of the singers started to sing a beautiful song about just needing to know that Hashem was an ‘Abba Tov’ – a good father. He needed to know that Hashem loved him, just as he was; and that the end would be good, whatever happened along the way.
I burst into tears. That was the missing piece! That’s what I’d been trying to express in all my hours of hitbodedut, but couldn’t find the words to do it. This singer had captured it precisely.
I went to bed around 1am, feeling much happier. The next morning, I woke up at 6am, and decided to do a last six hour session at Rabbi Nachman’s grave before we left Uman in the afternoon. It was a bit of an imperfect attempt: I had to stop half way to go and grab some breakfast; and then stop again to brush my teeth and pack my bag. But it was the best I could do.
When the time came to get on the bus to leave Uman, I can’t say I was sad to go. Even though I still had some of the anxiety left, I’d left most of it behind, at Rabbi Nachman’s grave. The Ukraine seemed to me the best place for those dark, distrusting, destructive thoughts.
But I was also taking some very precious things with me, many of which simply can’t be put into words. One thing I took home with me was a new understanding of Israel and Israelis. I felt more ‘in Israel’ in Uman, in a spiritual sense, then I have often felt in Israel itself.
The Israelis in Uman were caring; they were kind; they were sincere; they were real – there was no pretense in Uman. They were fired up with a love of G-d, a love of Eretz Israel and a love of their fellow jew.
In Uman, I got a glimpse of what geula really looks like – and it was beautiful.

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  2 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
yehudit levy3/10/2010 10:10:00 PM
Esther3/9/2010 11:16:27 PM

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