Sunday, September 8, 2013

Stories, Pictures, Video, & Reflections from my Trip to Uman 5774 - 2013

Below, please find some stories and reflections on my trip to Uman for Rosh Hashana 5774/2013 (see here for my itinerary and musical video from my last trip 3 years ago):

Uman 2013 Reflections 

Pre-Rosh Hashana

My Righteous Wife. I left New York about 11 p.m. Sunday night (erev Labor Day) and had very nice flights to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Kiev. The goodbye with my wife and kids was difficult as I was going away for about a week. I was dropped off at the airport about 8:30 Sunday night and was scheduled to arrive the following Sunday night at 8 p.m., so it was a long trip. My wife is definitely the most spiritually connected person I know and she was very supportive of me going to Uman to daven for myself and the whole family. IY"H, based on Rebbe Nachman's promise to intercede on behalf of anyone who comes to Uman to be with him for Rosh Hashana (this includes their families according to Rabbi Chaim Kramer), we have the right to feel very happy about this coming year. So, tzadekes, that she is, my wife has been very supportive and happy about the benefits of this trip. 

Judging People Favorably when they Behave Boorishly. One of the most important inyanim on Rosh Hashana is saying and thinking only good things about other Jews in order not to strengthen the side of strict judgment on the Day of Judgment. So one of the biggest challenges on the way to Uman was fulfilling this concept while observing the behavior of a number of my brothers on the plane in terms of how they behaved toward the flight attendants, the plane itself, and the other passengers. Unfortunately, I was not entirely successful in this regard, but I asked Rav Baruch Garnter (picture of the two of us on the right) about this and he tried to be mechazek me about this, pointing out that it is a tactic of the yetzer hara to get one to become discouraged about his failures to judge others favorably. So while nothing changes the objective truth regarding the inappropriateness and opposite-of-Kiddush-Hashem-nes of behavior like that, where there's nothing for me to do about it, I attempted to focus on how even very ostensibly religious people are sometimes not brought up with basic forms of derech eretz and actually do not know better. While this is very sad for klal Yisroel, the truth is that many otherwise very religious Jews probably have the status of tinokos shenishbu when it comes to matters of derech eretz, and so our "judgments" of them should be mitigated on this basis.

Travel to Uman. From the airport in Kiev I was fortunate to join a bus full of chevra from Brooklyn, Miami, Montreal and other places. We arrived in Uman about 9 p.m. Monday night. I checked into the Uman Inn (same place I stayed three years ago when I came last time - see video embedded here). It is a luxury hotel by Uman standards with clean, new sheets, blankets, a towel, a private mikva, and delicious meals. After checking in, I made my way to Rebbe Nachman's kever ("the tziyun"), gave at least a pruta to tzedka, said Tikun Klali in order to merit the fulfillment of Rebbe Nachman's vow.
Pre-Rosh Hashana. On Tuesday and Wednesday (erev Rosh Hashana), I attended a number of shiurim given by big mashpi'im in Breslov, including Reb Ozer Bergman, Rav Baruch Gartner, Rav Nosson Maimon,  Rabbi Chaim Kramer, and met others including Rabbi Dovid Sears (pictures of all on the right in the surrounding paragraphs) at Rabbi Kramer's place in Uman, known jokingly as the "Ritz Carton." I discuss what I took away from these shiurim, and this trip to Uman generally, at the end of this piece.

Hachnasas Orchim in Uman. The chesed in Uman is unbelievable. There is a big gvir who has made it his mission to ensure that everyone in Uman has enough to eat. He arranges for several football field sized tents to serve people. The whole "Shayner" operation is a marvel in logistical planning, especially considering the dearth of kosher food in the Ukraine. They serve individually packed hot meals for 22,000-25,000 per day.  A couple of pictures are one the side here. One shows just two of the tents from the outside at night and also displays the sign offering "Free Wifi" so people can be in touch with their families. Meals before Yuntif were free and I had a couple of them. The whole operation is totally remarkable. They direct people to tables in an orderly fashion, just like the parking attendants at the Disney World parks and Universal Studios. 

Another example of the unbelievable hachnasas orchim here are rows of faucets set up at a few locations, one example being the "Starbucks" shown in the picture on the right. One normally expects to find water coming out of a faucet but these faucets are completely different. Signs alert the beneficiaries of this service that, for no charge, various faucets dispense coffee with sugar, coffee without sugar, tea with sugar, tea without sugar, milk, and petel (fruit punch). Amazing! 

I also attended Slichos at the main Kloyz in Uman with 5,000 or so other Yidden starting at about 2:50 in the morning. See on the right for a picture of the Chazan who I was right behind as I stood in the aisle. I'm also embedding a video I took just below this paragraph which shows the size of the Kloyz as expanded with the second level. Very big!
Uman Rosh Hashana/Shabbos/Trip Home 

Gerim from Dixie. I spoke with a very interesting fellow at length after the seuda on the first night of Yuntif and met other members of his family as well. The background is fascinating. This is a family from Byron, GA, twenty minutes drive from Macon, GA. All of them (18 people including three families, their children, and two friends) converted at about the same time in Atlanta, GA. A picture of me with one of the brothers, Gavi, is on the right. The elder of the now-Jewish part of this family converted, along with his wife and adult son and daughter and their spouses and children. It has been a long time since I spoke with frum people with a real southern accent. And it was a pleasure!

They were originally Southern Baptists (and I think some other denominations at various points) and were on a search for truth that caused them to be dissatisfied with their environment, so they explored a messianic "Jewish" church, a conservative synagogue, and finally orthodoxy, and their primary mentors have been Rabbi Lazer Brody and his rebbe, Rav Shalom Arush. They have recently been profiled by Ami Magazine and will soon be featured in Zman Magazine and the Azamra quarterly. They are in the process of making aliya now. Suffice it to say, it is not easy raising one's children as Breslover chassidim in Byron, GA! 

Rabbi Chaim Kramer and the Reading of the Akeida. The driving force and main author behind the Breslov Research Institute books is Rabbi Chaim Kramer. He is also a very down-to-earth person when one meets him in-person, a true expert in all sifrei Breslov, and a very emotional person as well. He cried at a number of points during the Rosh Hashana davening and told the following story during the reading of the Akeidas Yitzchak: One of the Nazis' cruel methods was to go into shul and take a boy to kill. It was known that if one boy was released for some reason that they would pick another boy in his place. One Shabbos, a man watched in horror as his son was taken away by the Nazis. He immediately walked over to the Rav of the shul, told him that he had money, and asked if he was permitted to bribe the Nazis to release his son, knowing that they would pick another boy in his place. The Rav told him, "I simply cannot answer this question." The man understood from the Rav's refusal to answer that he was not permitted to secure his son's release because the Nazis would just kill another person's son instead, but that he could not bring himself to tell a father that he could not save his own son's life. He therefore told the Rav, "I understand what the Rav is saying. I will not redeem my son. But whenever you go to the upper world, tell Avraham Avinu that he almost gave up his son's life for Hashem but that I actually am giving up my son's life for Hashem and that he must intercede to send us the redemption right now..." 

Rav Shlomo Bussu. On the afternoon of the second day of Yuntif, I went to meet a friend at the Ritz Carton and found Rav Shlomo Bussu there, having just left the mikva. [Picture of Rav Bussu courtesy of the Sephardic Kehilla of San Diego.] I only knew of Rav Bussu because he was meeting with people in Rav Moshe Weinberger's home a few months ago, despite the fact that Rav Weinberger has not hosted a visiting tzadik or rebbe in virtually any other instance. He explained that he consults with Rav Bussu (Moshe Shapoff, a chosid of the Stoliner Rebbe, who was with him as gabai in Uman, introduced him to Rav Weinberger) and that other tzadikim consult with Rav Bussu as well, so that it was very worthwhile for us to take advantage of the opportunity to meet with him.  

One of the grandsons of the Baba Sali, Rav Bussu is a very remarkable person. Just a couple of points in that regard: Although he is not a Breslover chosid, he apparently came to Uman last Rosh Hashana for the first time at the suggestion of some of his talmidim I think. He said that he felt a lot of kedusha in Uman so he wanted to return and asked Moshe Shapoff to come with him. Another amazing point is his anivus. Although Rav Busso sleeps very little at night, rather than having a private room, he stayed in a bunk bed in a room with about 8 regular guys, many of them only marginally frum. I have never heard of this level of humility. He apparently spent time talking with his "roommates" (who I saw walking around in shorts, flip-flops, and "wifebeater" tee-shirts!) and had a very positive effect on them. I was zoche to get a bracha from him. He asked if there was anything I wanted to ask for and I asked for a particular thing in ruchnius for myself and my whole family and he gave me a detailed bracha for many good things in both ruchnius and gashmius.

Kabbalas Shabbos at the Kloyz. The most beautiful part of davening was in the main Kloyz for Mincha on the 2nd day of Yuntif and Kabbalas Shabbos. I davened elsewhere during Yuntif but hearing 5,000 clapping (as is the Breslov custom) when they said "Hamelech Hakadosh," "The Holy King," at mincha was amazing. The singing at Kabbalas Shabbos was also very beautiful and I was able to really get into it.  

They sang a number of songs after Kabbalas Shabbos which was nice, but one of them was new to me. There were three parts, all based on quotes from Rebbe Nachman: (i) "HaRosh Hashana sheli oleh al hakol," "My Rosh Hashana is above everything;" (ii) "V'amar lachem, ein yoser gadol mezeh lihiyos etzli al Rosh Hashoneh," "And he said to you, there is nothing greater than this, to be by me on Rosh Hashana;" and (iii) "Kol she'haya etzi al Rosh Hashana, haya lismoach kol hashana," "Anyone who was by me on Rosh Hashana has the right to rejoice the entire year." 

During the song, I saw a unusually Litvish looking fellow dancing enthusiastically near me so I commented to him jokingly, "What's a guy like you doing here?!" He answered, "Rebbe Nachman kidnapped me!" He also appreciated an observation I made which most other people there would not have for reasons which will become aparant. My observation was how the song makes the segol of "mizeh" rhyme with the komatz of "Hashoneh" because of the way chassidim pronounce the latter. I personally found this observation very amusing, as did my new Litvish friend.

Rav Shalom Arush Friday Night. Rav Shalom Arush spoke at the Uman Inn Friday night about the importance of maintaining the desire to be holy even after one falls. But he opened with a great joke. [Picture of Rav Arush courtesy of Emunah Teshuva.] A man goes to the airport to pick up his mother in law. When he sees her, he asks how long she plans to stay. She answers that she will stay as long as they want her to. So he responds, "Really? You won't even come over for a cup of coffee?!" Following a lot of laughter, Rav Arush continued the story. The man took his mother in law home and she sat down on a bench in his house. At one point, she got up, and just after that, a clock fell down off the wall and landed right where his mother in law had been sitting. So he exclaimed, "Oy vey! That clock is always slow!" Very cute story. During his speech, he, at various points, did the twist, waved, and balanced a water bottle on his head in true fulfillment of Rebbe Nachman's directive to make one's self and others happy by doing silly things. A very sweet tzadik. 

Chabad Shabbos Morning. It's always interesting to see the different kinds of Jews who go to Uman. There was a Chabad chevra that made a minyan which I davened at Shabbos morning. A lot of funny situations arise in Uman, one of which occured when a Chabadnik came to the bima and called out "Yechi Adoneinu... Melech Hamoshiach...!," "Long live... our master, the king Moshiach...!" Each of the three times he said this, various people responded with "Na Nach Nachma Nachman MeUman!" and then everyone broke out into "Ashreinu ashreinu ashreinu sheyesh lanu rebbe kazeh... Uman Uman Rosh Hashana!," "Fortunate are we that we have a Rebbe [Rebbe Nachman] like this... Uman Uman Rosh Hashana!" Quite a situation!

Coming Home. My wife is amazing. She brought the whole family and something to eat and drink to greet me when I left the baggage claim at JFK. It was so beautiful seeing all of them and giving everyone a much-needed hug! She is definitely the most thoughtful person ever for bringing food to the airport, especially considering the fact that the time difference made the Tzom Gedalia fast 7 hours longer (Yes, I'm aware there is some basis not to fast, or at least not to fast the whole time, but I fasted). The trip was good but it was very good to be home!

The Bottom Line - What Came from Traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashana 

All of the interesting stories and even inspiring experiences are really just talking around the real issue, the tachlis. Why did I go? What came from the trip? 

Those who Criticize Going to Uman for Rosh Hashana. As a digression, the fact that I would be in Uman came up in conversation with a frum fellow from work and his immediate reaction (like many others) was "That's meshugena." Putting aside the fact that it's interesting that with regard to certain things, even generally polite Americans do not feel embarrassed insulting others' religious practices to their faces, I said nothing about his choice to secretly daven on the Har Habayis in front of the Wakf guard a few minutes later in the conversation, which is also a controversial practice which is probably not practiced by as many prominent rabbonim as go to Uman.

What do I say to people who think it's meshugena to leave one's family for Rosh Hashana to go to the Ukraine for a week? First of all, I think it's a different question for someone like me, who does not consider himself a Breslover, than for a Breslover chossid. There's really no shaila for a Breslover. His Rebbe said, a few days before his clearly impending petira, that his people should always make every effort to be by him in Uman for Rosh Hashana (totally separate from the aforelinked reference to one who says Tikun Klali and gives a peruta to tzedaka). So Breslover chassidim must go. But what about others?  

It is interesting that people accept it as a necessary sacrifice when someone has to travel for business away from his family. I have friends who regularly spend almost a full week away from home, sometimes more than once a month. Why is this normal but going on a trip for spiritual benefits for him and his entire family is meshugenah? I believe that says something about people's jaundiced perspective.  

Going to Uman from Eretz Yisroel. Also, certain rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel speak out every year about how people should not leave kedushas Eretz Yisroel, especially for Yom Tov, just to spend it at the kever of a tzadik in chutz la'aretz. While many great rabbonim and tzadikim in Eretz Yisroel go to Uman for Rosh Hashana (see, for example, Rav Shlomo Bussu, who is not a Breslover chossid, mentioned above!) While there are many factors bnei Eretz Yisroel rely on to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashana, I just saw that Rebbe Nachman wrote in Sefer Hamidos (before he became sick) that one who is with "true tzadik" on Rosh Hashana transforms the air around him into the air of Eretz Yisroel. I believe Rebbe Nachman also writes in Likutei Moharan that the kever of a tzadik is a bechina of Eretz Yisroel. So according to Rebbe Nachman, they are not leaving Eretz Yisroel after all. 

Why I went to Uman. On my first trip, I merited Rebbe Nachman's promise to pull me out of the sheol tachtis (Geihinom) by my (trimmed) peyos. And baruch Hashem, my wife went with our son to Uman in November 2011 before his seventh birthday so that both of them could give at least a peruta to tzedaka and say the Tikun Klali by the tziyun in order to merit Rebbe Nachman's promise that any by who does that before the age of seven will be guarded from p'gam habris up through his marriage. But this trip, I was going more for the Rosh Hashana part of it since I'd already been before. 

The first reason in my mind motivating me to go was to get away from regular daily life for a while and recharge my spiritual batteries. I've been doing corporate bankruptcy work in my Manhattan firm for three years now (almost to the day since I started my job the day after Tzom Gedalia after returning from Uman last time). So I felt it was time to come back.  

As a non-Breslover chossid, one of the greatest expressions of the benefits of going to Uman for Rosh Hashana was given over by Rav Elchanan Galdahar, the rosh kollel and posek of Rav Shalom Arush's Chut Shel Chessed yeshiva in Yerushalayim, a fellow from South Africa. He was a great speaker, and said that there are four main benefits of going to Uman which are alluded to in the four letters of Rebbe Nachman's name. The first nun stands for "nituk," "cut off," because when one comes to Uman, he can focus on growth like nowhere else because he is cut off from all aspects of daily life back home. The ches stands for "chaverut," "friendship. One connects to old friends from all of the world in person sometimes for the only time during the year and when one experiences the hardships and joys of the journey to Uman, it binds people together in the bonds of friendship. The mem stands for "milui mivtzarim," "recharding one's batteries." While we have Shabbosim and Yomim Tovim, daily life does drain a person over time so it is very beneficial to recharge one's spiritual batteris from time to time. And the last nun stands for  "netina," giving. When people lose their luggage, need help carrying a bag, need something to drink, directions to the hachnasas orchim and the like, one gets much more out of an experience in which he also gives to others.  

So while I hopefully benefited from all of these four elements in some way, I think the primary motivation going in was to recharge my batteries. But now that I went, I would say that the primary benefit was different. 

My Main Take-Away from this Trip to Uman. As I mentioned above, I attended a number of shiurim at the Breslov Research Institute's "Ritz Carton" near the tziyun. The main theme I picked up from them was various aspects of Rebbe Nachman's teachings regarding how to truly connect to a tzadik. One must nullify his will to the tzadik and follow his teachings. This is the greatest way one can have a relationship to the tzadik. The point was how we should coneect with Rebbe Nachman this way. But as I think about the issue, including my nature and circumstances, I do not believe it is Hashem's will that I identify Rebbe Nachman in particular as the one true tzadik with whom I should go "all in" with. But if this is the case, how can I fuflfill Rebbe Nachman's teachings?  

I realized that I am already connected to a living tzadik, my personal rebbe, although my connection to him is not complete for certain reasons. I therefore resolved to begin making this relationship more whole and even took certain concret steps in this regard before Yuntif. IY"H, this may be the greatest toeles that comes from this trip.

There's a famous mashal that people use to explain the benefit of going to Uman involving a poor Jew who had a dream that a treasure was burried under a certain bridge in Vienna. He travled and began trying to dig under the bridge, only to be stopped by a guard who asked him what he was doing. He told the guard about his dream and the guard laughed, telling the Jew that had a dream a treasure was buried in a Jew's house in a faraway town (naming that same Jew's town and his address) but why would he pay attention to such dreams! The man then went  home and found the treatsure. I love this mashal and it very much resonates with me. It was definitely kedai to go all the way to Uman and separate myself from regular life so I could examine it "from a distance" and discover things in myself and my personal rebbe I was not in touch with before.
May Hashem write and seal all Jews for a good, sweet, healthy, wonderful year full of growth and peace spiritually and physically and enable everyone to connect to the true tzadikim!

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Marc said...

Beautiful...I personally felt zoche to be there with you. The trip has changed me. I hope to have some time to write up a post soon on some thoughts.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Please do! I would love to hear your thoughts/reflections and I know other readers would as well!

Dovid Sears said...

It was great to see you in Uman.

Thanks for introducing yourself!

Gmar chasimah tovah to you and yours.

Mikey said...

Was great rooming together. Great post!

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

R. Sears, it was a pleasure meeting you in person as well!

Mikey, a pelasure meeting you and rooming together as well. Sorry that door kept opening and keeping you up. Hopefully you got a chance to catch up on your sleep. ;-) Kol tuv and a gmar chasima tova!

Kahane said...

Hi Binyamin,

This is Daniel - I shared a ride with you from the airport in Kiev, and later we walked together to Inn Uman. I had no idea this was your blog. I was just googling to see if I could find a picture appropriate for the Yid HaKadosh's yahrzeit today on my own blog I recently started,, when I saw a picture of you. I clicked on it and it led me to this blogpost about Uman. Crazy how we could have crossed paths like that, yet totally miss this... It was great "meeting" you again online. Hope we can touch base again in the future!

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Yes, it was great meeting you too! Sorry we didn't get to talk more after that first ride. How was Uman for you?

Thanks for the link to your blog! IY"H, we'll be in touch more. Kol tuv!!

Kahane said...

It was my first time in Uman, and I have to say I've never seen such powerful davening. At the height of it all, I thought to myself, "So this is what Isaiah meant when he said, 'Am Zu Yatzarti Li Tehilati Yissaperu..'" It felt that, in some way, we were all there together fulfilling our purpose as Jews.