09 October 2005

From Mehzbehz to Uman

(This is a continuation. See "On to Uman" for the big picture, and "Visiting the Holy Baal Shem" for the first part of the trip.)


Sunday morning we're looking to make our way back to Uman. Rosh Hashannah starts Monday night, so we're not in a terrible rush, but we've been moving at such an easy pace that most of the others who were here in Mehzbehz for Shabbos have left. After Shabbos we could not tear ourselves quickly away from the Baal Shem Tov, could not tear ourselves quickly away from the group of Israeli Hippy Chassidim who had camped out on the grass with guitars, a flute, a violin...

Now we're standing in the main square of Mehzbehz, negotiating rides by flashes of fingers and movements of the head. We're not having much success. None of us came here with much money. The last potential ride leaves the square and I settle in to learn a little bit.

There's a group here who wants to go to Uman via Berditchev and Breslov, there are a handful of Sephardi men with their sons, there are a few of the midnight-jam-on-the-grass bunch left, and there's us, an unshorn bunch of American born Chassidic Hippies who hail out of Bat Ayin.

A van pulls up. Will this be the one? Where's it headed? We check it out. We secure some seats. We're headed to Uman - via Breslov.

Breslov (and Echoes)

More Ukrainian country side. Somehow my heart is pulled after it. It reminds me so much of Upstate New York, so much of New England. Leaves are turning. We stop by the side of the road to buy apples and pears. We pass through a town that still has a statue of Lenin, still has a wrought iron hammer and sickle.

Our traveling companions are Israeli, Sephardi, fathers and their young sons. We sing as we travel - each trying our best to get into the groove of the other's songs. We pass around some food - fruit, almonds, water.

Breslov is where Rebbe Nachman spent the last major portion of his life. He went to Uman half a year before he died. Breslov is where Reb Nosson is buried. Reb Nosson was Rebbe Nachman's main student. When Reb Nosson first went to see Rebbe Nachman, Rebbe Nachman told him, "We've known each other a long time, but we haven't seen each other in a while." Almost all of what we know of Rebbe Nachman's teaching come to us through Reb Nosson. He wrote some teachings in the life of Rebbe Nachman, but most after Rebbe Nachman's passing.

When we want to communicate with our driver, we speak to him in Hebrew. He doesn't understand, and responds to us in Ukrainian? Russian? We don't understand, so we repeat what we had just said in Hebrew. Sometimes hand signals get the message across; sometimes we just give up. Somehow, after a couple hours of such interchanges, we make it to Breslov.

One of my traveling companions recalls the way to Reb Nosson'’s grave, and we bump along a back road of Breslov until we come to the end. We're in the Ukraine, but somehow I'm in Upstate New York. We're by a river. There's an old mill and the sound of a waterfall. I realize how much I miss water.

Reb Nosson is buried on the side of the hill overlooking the river, about a hundred feet up. A planked path and series of steps makes it's way up to the grave from the parking lot at the side of the river. Today, two days before Rosh Hashannah, it is well traveled.

I'm standing in the building that houses Reb Nosson's grave. What do I pray for here? It strikes me that Reb Nosson changed the world through the power of his listening, through the power of his ability to put his own business aside, and receive - in a terrifically deep way - the words of his Rebbe. I pray that the Master of the World helps me to listen, to receive, to put myself aside to make room for the life of another, the world of another, the song of another. To listen in such a way that a person can discover themselves in the depth of my listening.

I leave Reb Nosson and wander back down the hill to the river's edge, where chassidim are stripping down and jumping into the river while Ukrainian taxi drivers watch. I explore an abandoned part of the mill, catch a glimpse of the waterfall, catch echoes of my adolescence.

Rolling back up to Uman. Are you sure you know the way? Incomprehensible response. Maybe you should ask for directions? Incomprehensible response. He does know the way; the streets begin to look familiar.

We stop at an intersection. Our driver doesn't want to continue. Why? What's wrong? He points to the police on the other side of the intersection. We urge our driver on, and he's stopped. He gets out, greases the appropriate palms, climbs back in, and we continue. The mob here gets a cut of everything, and the police are just an arm of the mob. There's no shame. It's all in the open.

The streets are filled with Jews of all colors - old, young, Sephardi, Askenazi, Poland in the 1800's, Israel in the Ukraine, SanFranciscoo in the 60's, Israeli, American, European. It's a festival, full on, no stops. Everyone's here for one reason - to have the most amazing Rosh Hashannah that they have every had. Here we are, in Uman, a short 30 hours before the day...


MC Aryeh said...

Such vivid, poignant descriptions... Somehow, I never envisioned the Ukraine as a dead ringer for New England or Upstate New York.....You are already one of the best listeners I know...I can only imagine what your prayers will do...you should be blessed to find out henceforth, forthwith and soon!

This series would make a wonderful newspaper or magazine piece. Would you consider submitting it somwhere when it's done? I'm sure there are many readers who would appreciate both the eloquent writing style and content...Again, waiting eagerly for what comes next....

Was Rav Nosson's kever as well-visited as Rebbe Nachman's? Are they far from each other?

'laizer said...

MCA - Amen to the blessing, thank you to the comlement, and a hesitant maybe to the magazine idea (it wasn't an amibition, but if you have a sense of who would want it...)

Reb Nosson's kever was much less well traveled than Rebbe Nachman's. In Uman, after returning from Reb Nosson's kever, Reb Natan of Bat Ayin related that Reb Nosson had said not to bother visiting his grave, because, "I'll be by the Rebbe."

Breslov and Nemirov (where Reb Nosson was from) are each about 100 Kilometers from Uman.

yitz said...

GREAT stuff!!! Looking forward to the next installment!

My son is much more of a talker than a writer, but he is quite verbal & shares a lot of his experiences with us.

As for me, I don't see Uman on my itinerary. I regret not having gone to the Siyum HaShas last winter together with the Modzitzer Rebbe Shlita, may he have a Refua Shelaima! But some close friends went & I even have digital pics of that event.

To me, what I really missed out was singing the Divrei Yisrael's niggun AT HIS KEVER in Warsaw, which the Chassidim were privileged to do last winter. Oh well, hopefully there'll be another opportunity.

Meanwhile, please all - daven for Rebbe Yisrael Dan ben Rivka Zlata for a speedy recovery!

A Simple Jew said...

'laizer: Another fantastic posting. I just read it again a second time. I really enjoy your writing style and having visited Ukraine can picture what you write about.

Looking forward to reading the next installment.

G-d willing, someday I will be able to get there to Uman for Rosh Hashanah as you have.

Chazarmaveth said...

awesome. in fact, the last few posts have been really, really great, comments included. gmar chasima tova, my friend, and much hatzlacha.

yitz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.