I got back from Uman yesterday afternoon, and while it’s probably too soon to say for sure (because Uman experiences don’t just happen while you’re in Uman, they kind of unfold over the next few weeks and months) – I think it was a really good trip.
There’s something so gratifying to the soul, especially when you’re an Anglo living in Israel, of spending a few days with Israelis from all backgrounds, who got the call to come to Uman and are on some sort of profound journey, that you’re sharing with them in some small way.
There was Avraham the ultra-Tel Aviv person, who was all designer sunglasses, flashy sneakers and ‘cool’ hair, who couldn’t put his i-Phone down for even 2 seconds (no joke). By the end of the trip, the phone was in his pocket at least some of his time – which is huge, in its own way – and the man kept a whole Shabbat away from his phone.
Nissim, the tattoo-ed shopowner, turned into a mega-chassid, and was dancing and singing niggunim all over the place. He sat avidly throughout all of Rav Ofer Erez’s shiurim, drinking in every word and asking questions afterwards.
Chen from the North lives on a ‘secular’ kibbutz – but tries to speak to God every single day.
Malka also lives on a secular kibbutz, which is ideologically ‘anti’, but got religious 18 years ago, and is now one of just 2 women who keeps Shabbat and cover their hair. Do you know how much courage it takes to do that?
Are you getting a sense of just how amazing Am Yisrael is? Just how brave and courageous so many of us are, spiritually-speaking? How despite the tattoos, the phones, the jeans, the nonsense, so many Israelis are spiritually seeking, and asking themselves hard questions about the meaning of life, and trying to find some real answers?
I’ve lost count of the number of amazing people I’ve met like this, on my trips to Uman. If I’d met them in Israel, we’d both probably think we had nothing to say to each other, and avoid each other like the plague. But in Uman, all the pretenses somehow shatter and the sweetness that’s in every Jewish soul gushes out like a river.
You feel like you’re in a room of 40 of your closest friends after a Shabbat in Uman, and the truth is you’re having the sorts of deep conversations that seem to be getting rarer and rarer today, outside of Jewish Ukraine. It’s amazing! Again this trip, I came away with such a profound sense of happiness, that God made me a Jew, and that Jews are amazing people.
Of course, it’s not always like that. One of the ‘hallmarks’ of Rebbe Nachman is that he raises up the lowly, and the he brings down the arrogant. So I’ve also had trips where my time in Uman was really, really hard for me. I suddenly started seeing all these things I needed to work on, particularly in regard to my middot, and how I relate to my fellow man, and let me tell you, being showing that stuff face-on come sometimes be excrutiatingly painful.
“Whaaat? I’m selfish? CAN’T BE! Don’t you know how much money I give to charity?!?!”
“What do you mean I’m angry, arrogant and judgmental?!?! Can’t you see how long my skirt is, and how much I pray?”
Etc etc etc.
Those types of insights can be very, very painful, so I go into my Uman experiences half-excited and half-wary now, wondering what’s going to turn up for me to deal with.
But baruch Hashem, it was a good trip. The people were amazing. The inner work wasn’t so painful. The insights I got were very gentle and life-affirming – and I came away feeling like I’m part of such a beautiful whole again.
It’s easy to forget that, sometimes, even when you live in the middle of Jerusalem.
So let me end like this: if you didn’t book your ticket yet, please do it! Because the most important person you get to meet in Uman is….yourself.