UMAN 5761

UMAN 5761
“Anticipation, Inspiration And Gratitude”
Years ago, while I still lived in Minneapolis, a great lady were dying. I remember the pain it caused me at the time. Each time I would ask, how she is doing, and each time I would hear, “She’s not doing well, she’s running out of time.” Then one day I was told that her family is speaking with her about the upcoming Bar Mitzvah of her son, which was many months away. The doctor admitted that the talks are helping her. Each time someone would visit they would talk about this Bar Mitzvah. The anticipation toward this great event added months to her life. She anticipated the day, the simcha, and the joy of the moment of being at her youngest son’s Bar Mitzvah, and she made it. She looked radiant; she looked as if she would be with us for many years to come. Although she passed away a few months after the Bar Mitzvah, I shall never forget the impact of anticipation. She taught me that lesson for life.

This was my feeling last year, all year when I heard of the possibility of going to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. All year long while I was in Florida, all I heard was “Just wait till you get to Uman, it will change you forever!” I remember having a smile on my face when I would listen to stories of past inspirations, of magical sounding stories and successes growing out of the seeds of Uman. At times people would ask me “What is so great about Uman, and why are you so excited to get there?” and I would answer, “I don’t know yet, but I have this feeling inside me and I can’t shake it!” I was a little bit scared that all the hype and anticipation might end up as being overrated or uninspiring when I finally got there. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My adventure began when I arrived at the airport two and a half hours early, to get a better seat selection on my flight from JFK to Kiev. I had asked for and received an emergency aisle seat for extra legroom on this ten-hour flight. Everything went well until she asked me for my visa and was told by the group leader that mine was hopefully on the way. My anticipation was being tested right away. It wasn’t until ten minutes before the scheduled time for departure that my visa arrived and lo and behold she somehow managed to hold on to my seat so that I may have a comfortable flight to Kiev.

When I boarded the plane, I anticipated this would be like all the other flights I took year round. The usual procedure of boarding a flight, buckling in and off we goes. The flight actually left about one hour later, as people who kept coming on board were shmoozing in the aisles and davening mincha with a minyan, every five minutes. The funniest part was trying to get everyone to sit down so that we can finally take off. The best they could do was all minus one, who wouldn’t step out of his shemona esrai until we were in the sky above New York. The atmosphere on the airplane was pure joy and anticipation. I was asked many times throughout the flight, “Is this your FIRST time?” to which I would answer, “Yes!” and they would all look at me and say, “You finally heard the call to come, welcome.” During this past year, I visited with one of my uncles as he was describing to me his yearly trip to Miron, for Lag B’omer. I asked him, “How did you come about to Miron every year?” He answered me, “When I heard Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai call me, I went!” He asked me if I understood, and I say that I did, for I did hear Rebbe Nachman call me to Uman, I felt it so strong, and still does as I write this today.

The level of anticipation was high by all who were on this flight. After speaking with some who were sitting next to me, I found out many interesting stories about Uman and how difficult it used to be to get there, while no it is visited by thousands each year, and an anticipated crowd of over 10,000 were expected this year (5761). Seven hours into the flight, someone tapped me on the shoulder lightly and whispered, “You said you wanted to daven vasikin (rising dawn), it’s time, wake up,” I asked him how we were going to have a minyan, and he said, “Listen and watch!” Two minutes later I hear him, not too loud not too quiet begin, “Yisgadal Veyiskadash Shemai Rabbah!” and everyone stood up out of their slumber and was rushing to the bathroom for netilat yedayim, and within two minutes we instantly had at least one minyan, I still recall that moment and laugh out loud. Following davening and breakfast the group began to hum in anticipation. I have never seen so many people eager to land, and then came the announcement that we were twenty minutes from Kiev. The people began to sing a song I didn’t know, called, “Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah” and “Ashreinu, Ashreinu” with such joy and happiness I have never witnessed before, and this was certainly only a preview of things to come. The entire plane sang until we landed and all the way to the gate area the singing never stopped.

The adventure continued through visa and baggage departments. As soon as the sliding door opened to Kiev, the first thing that you notice are how many police, and army personal there are and how few civilian people are in that mix. A lineup of five to six people ask if I need a ride to Uman for only $30 and I just tell them all that I am going by bus (for free) but they still persist. Then I sat outside waiting like the hundreds others who already arrived before us with El Al and other airlines for the buses to arrive. One of the busses was headed on a 24-hour trip to visit kivrei tzadikim (places where the righteous are buried) but most took the buses that had arrived almost every 15 – 30 minutes to Uman. I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling I had seeing so many police and army personal inside and out by the airport – everyone looking at us suspiciously, seeing civilians and wondering are they KGB, it’s a very weird feeling like you’re being watched at all times. Our bus finally arrived and we were on our way to Uman. A three and a half hour ride that went by quickly. The scary parts for me were the “Police Stop Sights”. This is where the police randomly pull over cars just to check papers and stuff. We weren’t stopped until we got to the outskirts of Uman there we were stopped twice just for the heck of it, and the third time was within ten feet of Uman, by a sign reading “Ouman Checkpoint”. An Army officer got on the bus and said, “Welcome to Uman, passports and visa, No passport No Uman!” After 10 minutes the bus was permitted to go the

Hundreds of children, men and women were lined on both sides of the bus yelling, “Mister, Mister Two Dollars!” These kids had buggies and carts, most of them hand made, wanting your business to help schlep the stuff to your room. I chose the one with the largest one and myself and two others in our group, Nestor and Louis began the climb up the hill with our bag in tow. You could hear music being played on loudspeakers as we turned the first turn up the hill, all you see are hundreds of people, joyful and happy, singing and dancing and rushing up the hill to the haichel, to the place where Rebbe Nachman is and to say hello, I’ve arrived, I’m in Uman for Rosh Hashanah, like coming home – words cannot describe this moment. I just stood there, I didn’t even notice how long until I saw my bags way up the hill ahead of me and ran after them. I just stood there and took in what was happening around me.

Another very funny incident that left a strong mark was finding out where we were staying. We had no idea where we were sleeping, where our apartment was. We kept asking people where our group leader is located, no one knew. One person who only spoke Hebrew told us “If you are looking for Leibel look on the tree” and we were trying to figure out if we lost something in the translation, or did we not ask properly. We asked another and his response was the same, “Look up the tree”. We looked at each other, is it possible he has a tree house? Then as we passed the first big tree there it was. A sign pointing to where our guy was, and then we noticed all trees with the same yellow bright sign, I guess in some ways, there he was, on the tree.

As soon as we put our stuff in the apartment we all rushed back to the haichel to welcome ourselves by Rebbe Nachman. Hundreds stood by the gravesite reciting “Klilals Yofi” (the specific tehilim and prayers recited by Rebbe Nachman). You hear joyful crying, sorrowful cries, screaming and sighing throughout the area. Behind us people sitting and learning 24 hours a day, non-stop learning and davening. After about an hour we went outside to take in the crowds, the flea market, the message boards and so much to see and feel. I went over to where they were singing and dancing. At that moment I realized that what I anticipated didn’t even come close to the actual. I danced in the streets of Uman with hundreds others who felt with me, we have arrived!

Instead of giving you a blow-by-blow daily account, I would encourage you to come one year to see it for yourself. There are truly no words to describe what you see and feel in this most wondrous place. Instead I will tell you some Inspirational highlights of my stay in Uman and my trips to the neighboring towns.

Inspirational Highlights

It’s very simple. Big yarmulke, small yarmulke, Kipah sruga, velvet yarmulke, white knitted yarmulke, with writing, without writing, no yarmulke, hats, knitted caps, shtreimlach, Russian fur hats, no hats, shoes, no shoes, sandals, sneakers, Slippers, sweaters, T-shirts, polo shirts, short jacket, long jacket, bekeshes, kittlach, white bekeshes, white pants, short pants, long pants, socks, no socks, Chasidic, litvish, breslov, viznitz, satmar, belz, orthodox, conservative, carlbach, baal teshuvah, sfradi, taimani, ashkenazi, American, French, Italian, English, Dutch, Flemish, vegans, Atkins, and so on and so on. All kinds of people from all over the world come to Uman. When you arrive at Uman you are looked upon as an Uman visitor all other titles and labels are removed. We are all one, together, for one cause, to come to Rebbe Nachman and ask him to represent us as he stands before Hashem on Rosh Hashanah and requests on our behalf all that we ask for. It was his dying promise, and it is that one point that thousands from all walks of life gather to be a part of. Until you make the trip, my words will barely make a dent. I hope that it will at least warm your heart and push you to fill out a request form, in order that I may fulfill my dreams of praying and crying for all.

1. The first night I was in Uman, I was sitting on one of the benches in the outside part of where the Tzadik is buried, and I saw a father talking to his son as they were approaching Rebbe Nachman. The fathers said, “Remember my son, ask for anything you want!” The child began to cry, “I only want Rebbe Nachman promise me that he would pray to Hashem for Mommy get better!”

2. A child standing by Rebbe Nachman crying “Tatte, Tatte, Tatte” (Daddy, Daddy, daddy) People standing near Rebbe Nachman and sighing out loud (krechtzing) for hours. A constant stream of people at Rebbe Nachman 24 Hours non-stop, always at least 10 rows deep and difficult to get to.

3. Our driver asking directions to the place where Rebbe Nosson of Breslov is buried. He asks in Ukrainian, “Where is the Tzadik (righteous person) buried?” No name is given just the term Tzadik, and the people point him in the right direction.

4. Arriving at the gravesite of the Baal Shem Tov and realizing how time flies at his place. We rushed, we thought we were only there for about 30 minutes when in truth we were there for 2 and half hours. We later returned and spent a few more precious hours by the Baal Shem.

5. The night before Rosh Hashanah I went to daven Maariv by the Haichel and ended up staying up all night listening and participating in all night selichos minyanim, and learning. It was very difficult leaving the area.

6. Watching the thousands who packed into the shul for davening. They claim only about 7,000 could sit while the thousands others were standing inside and outside.

7. The chazan on the first day of Rosh Hashanah crying while reciting poems about the akeidah and the crowd of over 5,000 mirroring his expressions and cries.

8. The hundreds of children on the side lawn where Rebbe Nachman is buried raising their hands to the sky screaming with joyful tears, “Abba, Tain Lanu Shana Tova Umetukah, Abba!” (Father, give us a good, sweet year, Father!) In Yiddish and Hebrew.

9. After davening the crowd begins to sing “Hakadosh Boruch Hu Ani Ohaiv Otchah” (Hashem I love you) and they don’t stop for an hour. This is after a five-hour davening.

10. Davening for the thousands of names and requests by Rebbe Nachman and no one asking me to leave or stand to the side. Most people are allowed about 5 minutes at one time as thousands try to get near. I stood there fore two and half hours erev Rosh Hashanah reading all requests.

11. Reading all requests by Baal Shem, Rebbe Zisha, Magid of Mezrich, Barditchev, and Breslov.

12. Being approached by people in Barditchev asking for one dollar. The importance of $1 is so awesome in a place where poverty is the norm.

13. Realizing you can sit all night by Rebbe Nachman and collect mitzvos. Answering omain all night to people kaddish and davening, giving tzedaka, making Brachos, learning Torah, saying a good word to someone, praying for another.

14. Joy and happiness go hand in hand all day. After every davening there is singing and dancing. At night people dance with loudspeakers on their shoulders. There are parties in homes all night filled with songs and stories.

15. Standing by the river saying Tashlich and asking each other “Is anyone davening for you, what can I ask for you?!” Each person crying with joy and davening for another. Notes handed out by people asking for you to daven for their loved ones.

16. Davening Maariv on the second night of Rosh Hashanah in the shul and the noise was so wonderful and loud while all I heard was the man standing next to me crying out loud the shema and his tears dropping on my bekeshe.

17. On the flight back from Uman an eight year old boy telling me that he promises every year on Pesach to answer YES to everything his parents ask and to respond immediately to any request for the right to visit Rebbe Nachman in Uman on Rosh Hashanah.

18. Hundreds of other thoughts come to mind every day about Uman and I invite you someday to join our group so that you may have stories of inspiration to share as well.

Gratitude

This has been a most incredible year for me. I left to Uman with nothing and came home with pockets filled with joyful hope and anticipation for a great year, and indeed it was. I am grateful to those who even since I was a kid used to talk to me about Rebbe Nachman. To Rav Berel Simpsor who introduced me to Yehuda & Margo Greenberg. To the Greenberg’s for giving me my first Likutai Mohran in English. To Rebbe Nachman for calling me to Uman and standing before Hashem on my behalf. To my children who encouraged me to go. To all my friends who sent me off with good will and helped sponsor my trip to Uman. To Nestor and Louis for joining me as witnesses to an incredible trip. To Moshiach, Yitzchok, Dudi; my roommates in Uman. To all who gave me notes, requests and names to take to Uman; which defines its purpose. To Hashem for everything, from putting all divine roads in my path, to giving me everyday what everyone prayed for me and for giving me another chance to return to Uman.