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5780: Did we turn the corner?

I don’t know about you, but I could describe the last few months of 5779 as some form of: hanging on by my fingernails.

That’s how it felt – for months!

I don’t know why, it just seemed like so many things were kind of permanently stuck, permanently dragging, permanently pointless. It was hard to get out of bed… It was hard to stay focused once I’d managed that part… It was so hard to keep going, to keep doing stuff, to keep my house clean, to keep making food for Shabbat, to keep saying my morning brachot, to go out for a walk.

Everything was such an effort, such a drag.

We are in to the fourth day of 5780, and what I can tell you is this:

The energy of this year is totally different from what came before.

Even Rosh Hashana felt so different this year.

Usually, I hunker down on Rosh Hashana, and wait for the feeling of oppressive din, and panic, and yirah to dissipate a little, so I can come out of hiding and stop holding my breath. The last few years, Rosh Hashana has been mostly difficult, for a whole bunch of reasons.

This year, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I can say that I came close to actually enjoying Rosh Hashana.

Me and the girls were out for two meals, home for the others, and none of us were stressed and fighting. Nobody was moaning that my husband was in Uman. No-one was stressing that they didn’t have the right thing to wear, or that their hair looked horrible (I’d like you to believe that last statement is referring to my children….)

We didn’t feel lonely, we didn’t feel out of place, we didn’t feel lost in the world or lacking.

Even more amazingly, I managed to find a body of water that the Jerusalem municipality couldn’t turn off for Rosh Hashana, to prevent residents from chucking their challah into it at tashlich.

So for the first time in at least five years, me and my girls all managed to do tashlich, and to actually do it on Rosh Hashana itself.

I spoke to someone yesterday who has also had quite a challenging few years here in the Holyland, and they said the same thing: there was a great feeling floating around on Rosh Hashana 5780.

There is hope in the air again, there is a light illuminating the path.

Dawn has finally broken.

That’s how it felt.

Now, I’ll guess we’ll see what happens next.

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Refreshing the soul, with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

The last few days, I was really feeling the heat allegorically and physically.

My landlady has been telling me since last Summer’s 43heatwave that you ‘don’t feel the heat’ in Jerusalem – but of course, she’s wrong. And since L’ag B’omer, I was sitting in my house slow roasting along to constant 40plus heat for weeks already – and I was starting to crack.

Then there was all the ‘regular’ madness if you can call it that. So much to do every day, so many chores to take care of, so much stuff on the boil, personally and nationally.

So I told my husband: we need to go to Uman for Shavuot.

Despite our lack of cash, he borrowed some money and made it happen, God bless him. Then there was another wrinkle in the plans: women weren’t allowed in the Kever for the whole of Shavuot. Did I mind? Of course, yes I did. But I had to get there one way or another, so I made up my mind to have a different sort of Uman trip, minus Rebbe Nachman’s actual grave.

The hotel was understated but quite nice, quite quiet (relatively…) food was simple buy yummy. I had three whole days to try to get my head in order. There was yet another ‘wrinkle’ in the plans, inasmuch as we made plans to head out to Uman the same night that Rabbi Berland then called his atzeret in Hevron last week.

So, we figured we’ll go early to Hevron stay for half an hour, then bomb it back home, try to catch some sleep for an hour a half, then roar off to ben Gurion. In the meantime, there was another wrinkle in that plan, too: when I got home at 11pm Thursday night, it turns out one of my kids needed some urgent help to get her bagrut art project done and turned in on time.

So (long story…) I spent two hours sewing body parts together for 18 felt dollies, before spending 10 minutes packing my case like a madwoman, before departing for Uman.

Obviously, our taxi man didn’t show up in Kiev. Or rather, he did, but just not where we were expecting him, so we had to spend an hour combing the carparks to find him.

But when we actually got to Uman it was nice. Like, pretty much almost ‘normal’ – which was so weird to me, I spent the first day and a half trying to work out how to react to it. Usually, I hit Uman and I get the massive stomachache, the massive challenge, the massive insight, the massive something…. This time, nothing massive.

This time, just lots of walking around and around Uman itself, as I couldn’t get near the Kever and I couldn’t stay in a hotel room for 3 whole days without going totally bonkers. So I discovered all sorts of back alleys and new places in Uman that I’d never been to before, and certainly never by myself.

On Isru Chag, I decided to spend the day walking around Gan Sofia.

In the past, I’ve seen extending walks around Gan Sofia as something only ‘lightweights’ do, instead of pulling all-night prayer sessions by the kever, but as the Tzion was still barred to womenkind, it struck me as just the thing to pass the time. I spent the best part of a day just walking under trees that were three storeys high, bathing my eyeballs in luxuriant green and Victorian water features, and felt so very lucky.

Hey, there’s something to this, after all….

Walking back from Gan Sofia, I got some insight that Rabbenu’s grave is very chazak spirituality – so chazak, it can and does fry people’s brains out of their heads, sometimes. In our spiritually-dead days, most of us need a jolt like that, an electric shock of kedusha like that, to try to get the soul back from its flat-lining position.

But this time around, I also got why Rebbe Nachman used to request that his followers also visit Gan Sofia when they come to Uman, too.

Gan Sofia is total gashmius – the polar opposite of the intense kedusha that is the Tzion.

But we need both, in order to serve God properly.

But in the correct order and dosage, i.e. first the spirituality, and only as an after-thought or a dessert, the gashmius and materiality.

Second day in, I had this amazing dream that Moshiach is coming into the world next week.

I woke up in a really good mood, and it seemed like a ‘real’ dream to me. I needed that good vibe, as I came home to a tip.

We let a teenager have the house with her friends, and one of them managed to shatter the shower door all over the bathroom floor. There’s no milk in the house, they’ve moved all my stuff around…

But I got another ‘message’ from Uman this time around, which was to shower my teenagers with as much love and compassion and understanding as I can, whenever I can, because in this dark generation, unkind words can just propel our children straight into the clutches of  the tumah, God forbid. So I kept my temper and didn’t go off into rant mode.

The world is very hard to ‘be’ in at the moment, especially if you’re trying to put at least some focus on kedusha and God.

The filth is literally seeping in under the doors and through the walls. It’s permeating the atmosphere and degrading everything it comes in contact with. It’s hard to continue, some days. It’s hard to think straight. It’s hard to pray.

Before I went to Rebbe Nachman in Uman, current events had made me feel more than a little despairing about being able to raise my children in anything like a ‘healthy’ spiritual environment. We’re in a little bubble here in Jerusalem, but even here, the cracks are starting to deepen and the tumah is seeping through.

There is a relentless and effective ‘war’ being waged against the soul, and against kedusha, and against God, especially by the media. It’s claiming so many casualties, it’s truly frightening to witness how fast the moral fabric of the world is unravelling.

Which is where Rebbe Nachman really came in to his own.

Torah is eternal. Tzaddikim are eternal. Mitzvot are eternal. The Jewish people are eternal.

Even though the battle for the Jewish soul is currently very intense, if we stick close to our true tzaddikim like Rebbe Nachman and Rabbi Berland, they will act like spiritual bulwarks, absorbing and deflecting most of the ‘cack’. So somehow, us and families can come through the fighting unscathed.

But without that bulwark?

I dread to think.

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The Uman Experience – Part 9

Uman Redux

Uman explodes

This year, it’s more important than ever to send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana.

I know, I could give you the whole big shpiel about how if you send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana, it will bring world peace, and speed the coming of Moshiach, and help to rectify the whole of Am Yisrael.

And that stuff’s all true, and all described in detail in various Breslov sources. But girlfren, really? You should send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana because between you and me, I know how annoying that guy can be, at least occasionally.

Yes, he’s sweet, and good-hearted and hard-working and often quite loving and generous. But he’s also half-earth, and that ‘earthy’ bit of him is far to drawn to making money, and cheering on the team, and spouting off ridiculous opinions, and spending too much time watching movies or surfing online.

I know how hard you’ve tried to get him to make more effort with the kids, and to get him to stop walking around like an egotistical stuffed-shirt, and to get him to open up and to be ‘real’ about what he’s really feeling, and what fears and worries he’s got that are really causing him to act and believe the way he does.

I know all this stuff makes pulling teeth (the old fashioned way, with a piece of string and minus anaesthetic…) look like a walk in the park, which is why I’m here to tell you straight what works to get the guy back on the right spiritual path. And it’s spelled:

U-M-A-N.

Like so many of the Uman ladies out there, I don’t send my husband for an expensive, inconvenient jaunt to anti-semitic Ukraine just for the heck of it. I encourage him to go because I know how much spiritual help he’s going to get by Rabbenu at Rosh Hashana, that’s going to carry him – and me – through all the challenges we have to face in the coming year.

I know that sending my husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana means he’s going to come back with a drop more humility, a tad more introspection, an ounce more gratitude and generosity, a page more of learning, a bissel more emuna.

The guy goes to Uman, and he comes back and realizes all by himself, without me saying a word, that he needs to spend more quality time with the kids, or that he needs to stop worrying about money so much, or that he needs to start playing soccer again. (Hey, not every revelation you get in Uman is easy to predict…)

When our blokes go to Uman, they come back better husbands, and nicer dads. They come back with a lot more of a clue about their real path in life, and how best to travel it. And most important of all, they come back with much more appreciation for their homes, families and the good cooking of their loving wives.

And this stuff is priceless, never mind all the other spiritual ‘saving the world’ stuff that goes on there at Rosh Hashanah time.

There’s still time to book his ticket and lodging, and to make it even easier for you, I’ve pulled together some numbers to call. Try:

Derech Tzaddikim: +972-2-541-0100 – www.zadikimtours.com

David Bargshtein Tours: +972-2-999-2955 – david@dbtours.co.il

Netivim Tours: +972-2-633-8444

Glatt Tour: +972-2-547-7600 – www.glattour.com

I know it’s not easy to pull the money together, I know it’s not easy to manage without him over the High Holidays for a few days, I know it’s mamash mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the ladies who stay behind with their challenging broods.

I’ve had some years where I have absolutely dreaded the logistical part of sending my husband to Uman, because it means I’ve been stuck alone with my kids over a three day Yom Tov. Before I moved to Jerusalem, I’d at least get regular invitations as an ‘Uman Widow’ to break up the time, and I had a regular place in the local shul.

But since I’ve lived in the Holy City, Rosh Hashana each year has been quite a struggle. I don’t know where I’m davening (or sometimes, even if I’m davening…), I have no invitations, I have to deal with stroppy teenagers who think I’m retarded all by myself, without my husband acting as their foil.

But you know what? It’s still so worth it. Why do I say that?

Let me end by sharing the story of a lady I met a few years’ back, who was adamant that her husband shouldn’t go to Uman at Rosh Hashana, because Rosh Hashana was family time.

She was experiencing some serious difficulties with him, and his behavior, and no therapist or counsellor could touch them with a barge pole.

So, I suggested she send him to Uman for Rosh Hashana, and I got back a very stony stare, and a big explanation of how Rosh Hashana was a time when the family should be together. As the marriage continued to head South, each year I’d call her up in July and suggest that maybe, just maybe, this was a good time to send her husband off to Uman.

Each time, she emphasized how important it was for her family to stay together, and there was nothing I could say or do to change her mind.

Then last year, she got divorced.

It really was so very important for her family to stay together, and maybe if she’d sent her husband off to Rebbe Nachman, they’d have had a better chance of making that happen.

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As you may, or may not know, my husband and I first got into Breslov by way of Rav Shalom Arush, and his amazing, life-changing book, ‘The Garden of Emuna’.

Until I hit Rav Arush and his strong emphasis on emuna, i.e. seeing Hashem behind every single little detail in our lives, I had so many questions that didn’t appear to have answers, at least not in more ‘mainstream’ Judaism.

As each of the Rav’s books came out, I gobbled them up. And I can honestly say that his ‘Education with Love’ book is probably the most important book I ever read in my life, and completely changed my relationship with my kids for the better.

My husband was also profoundly changed by Rav Arush’s teachings and books, in particular the ‘Garden of Peace’ book on how to ‘do’ marriage properly, that’s for men only. That book helped him navigate some incredibly stormy times in our marriage and in our life, with emuna.

In fact, it probably kept us together when circumstances were raging so hard against us, they nearly broke us both into pieces.

Why am I writing this now?

Because the last couple of years, I forgot how much I owe Rav Arush. I got so caught up with some of the ‘difficult’ characters associated with the yeshiva, and so upset about some of the things we experienced since we moved to Jerusalem, I kind of distanced myself internally from the Rav, and forgot how much he and his advice really helped us.

A few months’ ago, after my husband left Rav Arush’s yeshiva to go and study in the Old City, I took one of Rav Arush’s picture off the wall, unsure as to how ‘connected’ I really felt to him, at this stage in my life.

Yesterday, spontaneously, one of my kids was tidying up the place, and decided to stick the picture back up on the wall. The timing was uncanny…

Because yesterday, me and my husband kind of got peripherally caught up in someone else’s exploding shalom bayit (marital peace) issue. To cut a long story short, both parties are MEGA frum looking, but really have so little emuna when it comes to seeing God in their spouse it’s actually heart-breaking.

Sure, they’ve also been through a lot of difficulties in recent years – who hasn’t?

But me and my husband were both really shocked to see how little responsibility either party is taking to fix the problem, how much they’re just blaming each other for everything that’s going wrong, and most disturbingly of all, how little God is really in the picture.

After my husband read Rav Shalom’s ‘Garden of Peace’ book, he realized that whenever I was giving him a hard time about something, I was just the stick that God was using to get him to really work on the things he’d otherwise prefer to ignore.

That understanding saved our marriage on countless occasions, strengthened our relationship, and helped my husband to become a mensch, in every sense of the word.

By the same token, every time I was caught up in feelings of utter despair and overwhelm about how things were going in life, or with my relationship with my husband, or with my kids, I’d take it into my personal prayer sessions, and I’d ask God for help.

A few years’ ago, when my husband went through a very dark time after his father unexpectedly died, talking to God is what helped me deal with what was going on. I prayed for my husband so much that he should come through his very difficult nisayon (test) in one piece, and that he and we shouldn’t be completely broken by what was going on.

Rav Arush explained in one of his books that you get the husband you pray for: whenever you see a problem, a difficulty, a ‘lack’ in your home, your marriage, your man, you need to go and pray on it, and ask God to help him resolve it.

That’s the advice we’ve both been living by for years’ now – and mamash, it’s the main reason we still like each other so much and are generally pretty happy, BH, despite all the difficulties we’ve gone through the last few years.

It could be so different.

At this stage in life, I’m seeing so many marriages go to the wall because the husband refuses to accept that they have any problems they need to work on, and because the wives get so despairing and exhausted from dealing with the spiritual and mental immaturity of their husbands, they kind of get to a stage where they just want ‘out’ of the whole process.

Ladies, don’t give up on them!

Just pray for them, and send them to Uman as much as you can, but especially for Rosh Hashana! Rabbenu’s got your back!

And for the husbands who are reading this – please, please, please, do the whole world a favour and go and buy a copy of ‘The Garden of Peace’. If you already have that book, go and actually read it. If you already read it, go and actually internalize that as long as your wife is a God-fearing woman, the ‘hard time’ she’s giving you is actually just Hashem talking.

We all need to work on our middot, we all have stuff to fix. For as long as we are still in the world, that’s a sign that we still have stuff to work on.

Without Rav Arush’s guidance and help, I dread to think how things could have turned out in my marriage, given all the tremendous ‘tikkunim’ God’s been expecting of us the last few years.

Rav Arush, thank you! You’re amazing!

I’m sorry it took me a couple of years to remember that.

I’ve been going to Uman for something like seven or eight years’ now, and in that time, I’ve seen it blossom from the worst sort of primitive, third-world country shtetl into a place with wifi, porsches and more kosher restaurants and hotels than many parts of Tel Aviv.

Mostly, it’s a good thing. But sometimes, I yearn a little for the utter simplicity of Uman even eight years’ ago. When I went back then, there was no cell phone access, and you’d be lucky if the electricity supply would hold out for a whole five days. Back then, I was still passing elderly Russian ladies taking their sleds down to the local water pump to get their H2O for the day.

The first place I stayed had two showers for 50 women – both of which opened straight onto the front door – and to say it wasn’t luxurious is kind of the understatement of the year. I had to bring my own toilet paper. I had to bring my own snacks (although breakfast and supper was catered on my trip.)

The snow was piled so high, that February, and the Ukrainian taxi and coach drivers were still palpably anti-semitic, but as they were the only people who actually had a van / car / coach at that time, you just had to put up with it or walk all the way back to Kiev.

Physically, it was really hard going. Spiritually? It was probably the most intense trip I ever had.

Not easy – really not easy – but powerfully transformational in a whole bunch of ways. That first trip was the only time that I ever had the Kever to myself for a little while, because going to Uman was still something a little ‘fringe’ that only hard-core crazies would do.

Not any more.

Uman has literally exploded over the last year or so.

Just now when I went, I saw at least three new hotels, and least three new kosher restaurants, plus big signs for people to come buy a luxury flat in a new development being built right up the road from Rabbenu on Pushkina Street.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t so happy that the commercialization of Uman is roaring ahead. Uman was the one place I didn’t have to worry about my usual inability to buy luxury properties, and where I could just disappear into my soul for a few days without any materialistic distractions.

This time, I went for a couple of days with my kids and husband and I struggled mightily to tap into the spirituality in Uman that usually just blows me away from the second I step off the coach there. I know it’s always different when you go with your kids, especially teenagers. From previous experience, I knew we’d have to budget more for food and souvenirs than we did for tzedakah (which is not the usual way of things, when me and my husband go there by ourselves.)

They wanted to eat pizza and chips, and go to Gan Tzofia, and buy all the cute Ukrainian handicrafts that I usually don’t touch with a bargepole because hey, I really don’t like giving those people any more of my money than I have to. But kids are kids. And one of the lessons I’ve been trying to learn recently is that God wants balance in the world, even when it comes to spiritual matters.

If Uman was minus the chips, and the ‘fun’ and the nicer accommodations, my kids wouldn’t want to keep going back every year.

That’s the reality. It’s the reality for a bunch of other people from the West, too, who really wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the Uman from 10 years’ back.

But I still felt pretty out of place in comfortable Uman. I still had to leave the Kever – which had been taken over by yet another rock-star Rabbanit doing a very loud ‘Amen’ festival for two hours, where her followers basically just chanted ‘Amen’ to everything she said – and go for a long walk round to the lake.

I sat there for half an hour, looked at the gorgeous trees, the beautiful water, did my best to avoid the big disgusting crucifix thing on the opposite bank of the lake (hey, it’s still GALUT after all) and tried to figure out what was bothering me so much.

After a while, I got it: normally, Uman is the only place in the world where I feel like really belong, in some weird way. Not that I want to live in the Ukraine, or even stay there for more than a couple of days, but normally, the spiritual vibe is so strong in Uman that everyone is talking about God, and being pretty real and honest, and you feel connected to yourself, and to God, and to your fellow Jew so much more.

This time, that seemed to be missing for me, and I felt its loss keenly.

Sure, I had a great plate of chips and chicken thighs instead, but for the first time ever, my soul felt more in exile in Uman than in Jerusalem.

Probably, this is a good thing. If Uman – one of the weirdest, most spiritually-intense places in the world – is finally going mainstream, then maybe the intense soul-connection that is Rebbe Nachman’s hallmark is finally making it out to the masses of Am Yisrael. Or, maybe God is showing me that just like Am Yisrael had to knuckle-down and get more ‘gashmius’ when they finally got out of the Desert and entered Eretz Yisrael, that now it’s also time for me to get a little more grounded and gashmius-minded again.

Maybe.

Truth is, I wouldn’t mind a luxury flat in Jerusalem. Or even, not such a luxury flat in Jerusalem….

Maybe that’s the lesson that I went to learn this time in Uman: that while it’s very important to pray, and to work on the spiritual side of things, sometimes, you also need to take a break from your devotions to eat a yummy plate of chips, sightsee and buy chatchkees for your kids, and in its own small way, that’s also somehow serving Hashem.

Last Pesach, my husband got me a blue opal bracelet, set in copper settings.

(It sounds kinda weird, I know, which is probably why the man in the shop gave it to him for a bargain basement price). But when he brought it home and I put it on, I knew exactly what the message was: Fire and Ice.

Somehow, God was giving me a hint that this was the year that I was finally going to figure out how to balance those two elements, those two extremes, in myself, and my life and my work.

With God’s help, I wrote and published five books in the last year since Pesach, that tried to encapsulate the ‘fire’ of trying to live a spiritual, soul-full life in the middle of the emotionally ice-cold, ‘factual’ rationalism and fake materialism of our modern world.

But then…

The fire seemed to have sputtered out a little a couple of months’ ago. The fuel ran low, the replenishments ran out, and I kind of burned myself out in a big way, on many different fronts.

My ideas and my insights kept going, but my motivation to share them, or to believe that they might change the world in some way disappeared. I found myself stuck. Actually, I found myself completely frozen in place, unable to move forward in any direction.

After everything….what? What’s the point? What’s the point of writing things that people can’t relate to? What’s the point of talking about things that no-one wants to listen to, or believe? What’s the point of trying, when nothing ever gets anywhere?

What’s the point?

At this pretty low stage in my life, one of my daughters started blasting out a secular song from the Disney move ‘Frozen’. (She’s hitting that nearly teenage stage, and while we’ve made a point of banning secular music up until now, there comes a stage where you have to let it go a little.)

And guess what: The name of that song is: ‘Let it go’ – something that I’d been praying on for months, already, in my hitbodedut (personal prayer sessions). So instead of yelling at her and confiscating her phone, I knew it was a clue about something from Upstairs. So I went to find the lyrics, and here’s what I got:

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well, now they know!
1

Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.

(I have no idea what the movie is about, BTW, but given that it’s Disney, no doubt it’s up to no good.)

So anyway, here I was, feeling ‘frozen’ in my life, and stuck, and here’s my daughter playing ‘Let it go’ full blast, and then here’s all these lyrics that seemed to really resonate with me (all except the bit about not crying, because clearly, I’ve been crying a lot the last few days, and I’m not even sure why.)

That’s the ice bit of the equation.

Last week,  I started to feel really unwell again, which hasn’t happened for a few months. (If you want to know how I could write a book called ‘Talk to God and Fix Your Health’, let’s just say I had to figure it all out the hard way.)

I anyway had an appointment scheduled with my reflexology lady, so I went even though I felt really poorly. And this is what she told me:

“Something’s moving! Your foot is full of fire today, and it’s not normally like that.”

My reflexologist practices according to a theory that divides the foot into four elements, namely earth, water, fire and air. Apparently, my foot is mostly ‘water’ with some air thrown in.  But seemingly, not anymore! As of the end of last week, the fire is back.

I know what the fire is: it’s Rabbenu.

Every single time I feel I’m spiraling down into ‘FREEZE/FROZEN/DEPRESSED’, I get a burst of the fire again, to thaw me out and keep me going.

As if to underline that point, yesterday I had this weird urge to call someone I don’t speak to very much. I called, left a message – and she called me back five minutes later from Uman, where she was praying at Rebbe Nachman’s grave.

I had no idea she was going, or that she was there.

Somewhere deep inside, a little bud of hope started to blossom again.

God DOES see me. He DOES notice my efforts. He knows how lonely the last ten years have been, and how hard I tried to fit in to all the boxes being produced for me by people I shouldn’t have trusted or listened to.

He knows how much effort I’ve made to fix things that I never even broke, and how hard I’ve tried to see the good in people, and situations, that have excelled in hurting me, and making me feel like all the problems in the world are somehow my fault.

Let it go! Let it go!

Can’t hold it back any more!

Let it go! Let it go!

Turn my back and slam the door.

Here I stand

And THERE they’ll stay.

Let it go, let it go.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

But only because I’ve got Rabbenu rubbing my feet, and giving me some will to continue.

I got back from Uman yesterday afternoon.

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.

Like…

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.

I know, I know. There’s been a lot of stuff about Uman and Tzadikim this week.

Next week, it will be more business as usual, and we’ll return to more general posts about the spiritual dimension of snot, and how to tap away your anxiety about the Hamas.

But I just want to finish up this flurry of Uman posts with a plea: if you haven’t done so already, please book yourself a ticket, and go visit Rebbe Nachman.

I eat sprouted spelt; I make smoothies every day with organic dates and oatmeal; I usually walk for an hour; I do my energy exercises; I talk to G-d every day and try to work on myself spiritually; I live a wholesome life – and without my visits to Uman, I still don’ t know where I’d be.

It’s not fashionable to say so, or comfortable to hear, but life today is very, very heavy, and without the help of the Tzadikim, and particularly Rebbe Nachman and his Torah and his advice, we simply can’t cope with the spiritual demands being made of us.

This blog is broadly about self-help, and self-help is great and wonderful and necessary – but it’s also limited. We hit a point where we just can’t do it alone, even with the best will in the world, and that’s where Rebbe Nachman comes in.

Time and again, when me and my husband have hit a point in our lives where we just can’t manage, or we have no idea what to do next, a trip to Uman somehow gets us over that bump, and moves us forward.

Rebbe Nachman told his students that he couldn’t achieve anything without them, and their sincere efforts to pray and to ‘self-help’.

But the corollary of that is that we can’t do anything without the help of Tzadikim like Rebbe Nachman. Some things – many things – are simply too big for us, and we need a very broad pair of spiritual shoulders to share the burden with us.

In Israel, this stuff is old hat. Everyone – even Tel Aviv beach babes and Haifa hippies – know that they need to go visit the Doctor of the Soul, at least once. In English speaking circles, I know what I’ve written classifies me as ‘crazy’ for most people.

(And you’re probably right about that☺).

But what can I do? I got so much help from Rebbe Nachman this last trip, I made a promise that I’d do my best to tell other people about him, even if I lost all my cred as a result.

The only way to really settle the question of whether or not I’m bonkers is to go to Uman, and see for yourself what’s going on there. There’s a lot of good tour companies operating now (Derech Tzaddikim and Netivim are two that come to mind…), it’s as safe as anywhere else, these days, and even if you don’t realize, you’ll come home changed for the better, and spiritually much healthier.

Ok, I know, I know. Back to the snot and tracing meridians now, I promise. At least, until my next trip.

For a few years’ now, I’ve had precious little patience for people who claim to be doing ‘the best they could’

– as they continue to mistreat their nearest and dearest; cheat on their taxes; lie to everyone, about everything, and generally act like horrible human beings.

I mean, really. How can they possibly claim to be doing ‘the best they could’? Do they think I’m retarded, or something?

But after this trip to Uman, something fundamental has changed in my outlook, and strange to say, I’m actually starting to see how these people really are doing ‘the best they could’, after all.

When people are raised, for whatever reason, in environments that are very harsh, critical, cold and unloving, it literally rewires the way the energy flows in their body; the way they think; they way they see things; and the way they act.

They don’t act the way they do because they want to be horrible, hateful, deceitful, selfish people.

They are acting the way they do because they got stuck in ‘survival’ mode, spiritually and energetically, and they can’t see any way out.

Until a few days’ ago, I also couldn’t see any way out for them. Logically, if people aren’t even willing to take the first basic steps in becoming self-aware, and can’t even conceive of being willing to change, or to work on themselves, or to ask G-d to help them out of the rut they’re in, then how can anything ever change?

It takes a lot of work, effort and time to change. It takes an awful lot of prayer. It takes an awful lot of teshuva. And a lot of people today, especially the ‘interesting characters’ in our midst simply don’t have the inclination or energy to invest in the process.

So it seemed to me, they were stuffed.

But after this last trip to Uman, I’m really starting to believe it’s possible after all. How? They just need someone, anyone, to pray for them, even a little bit, and then G-d will do the rest.

Rebbe Nachman made a promise that if someone came to his tomb and said the Tikkun HaKlali, and gave a penny to charity, that he would do everything in his power to help them, and pull them out of hell.

There’s an idea in Judaism that if someone can’t perform a certain mitzvah themselves, that you can be their shaliach. It hit me this time round that I could say the Tikkun HaKlali and give charity on behalf of a whole bunch of people, and then they’re automatically going to start getting the help they need to get out of ‘hell’.

Hell doesn’t just mean that very hot place you go to when you die. People can and do experience ‘hell’ while they’re still very much alive.

Just ask anyone who’s addicted to drugs, alcohol or internet porn; ask the workaholics who hate that they spend 18 hours at the office, but can’t see any alternative; or the people who are trapped being superficial caricatures of themselves, unable to ever have a real conversation with anyone, including G-d.

It’s hell, mamash.

And Rebbe Nachman promised to get these people out, if they’d just follow his instructions.

Now, you might say that you can’t do Tikkun HaKlalis on behalf of others without their permission, but there’s a story about two Breslev elders that puts that idea to rest.

When Uman was behind the iron curtain, very few people managed to get there. One of the Breslev elders of the last generation had been privileged to be there a few times, and another Breslev elder who’d never managed to get there asked him to ‘sell’ him one of his recitations of the Tikkun Haklali.

He was willing to give in return all the heavenly reward for his mitzvoth and Torah learning – and remember, we are talking here about a giant of a man, spiritually.

That story showed me that you can do ‘surrogate’ Tikkun Haklalis, and this trip to Uman, I got another bit of the puzzle: Rebbe Nachman really wants us to do it! He wants us to pray for other people that are never, ever going to make the trip themselves (at least, the way things stand at the moment).

He wants everyone to get out of hell, both in this life and the next.

Even those people who despite doing ‘the best they could’ are still leaving a trail of destruction, evil and suffering in their wake.

Our job is just to pray on their behalf, just to be G-d’s shaliach, and then He and His Tzaddikim will do the rest.

One of the reasons I love going to Uman with a group, as opposed to on my own, or just with my family, is because I always hear such amazing stories from the other people in my group.

I want to share a couple of the ones I heard on my latest trip with you here, one today, and one tomorrow:

Story number 1

Ilanit comes from Tel Aviv. She showed up on the bus to Uman replete with fashionable UGG boots; fashionable pompom hat; fashionable stretch leggings; and a whole bunch of expensive jewellery, to boot.

She’d bought her three Tel Aviv roommates with her (also with their UGG boots) and this is her story:

Two years’ ago, after 30 years of marriage, her mother decided that she’d had enough, and was filing for divorce. Ilanit was 24 at the time, and she says she took it really hard, to see her whole family life being ripped apart.

She’d never been to synagogue in her life, but she found one in her neighbourhood, sat there, and cried her eyes out. While she was sitting there, she saw a copy of the ‘Tikkun HaKlali’, the 10 psalms that Rebbe Nachman prescribed for fixing our souls at their root, and said them. Then, she made a promise to Rebbe Nachman that if he got her parents back together, she’d come and visit him.

A few weeks’ later, she got a phone call from her mother, who was sitting having breakfast with her father, having decided to reconcile with him.

“What happened?!” a stunned Ilanit wanted to know.

“Don’t ask!” her mum replied. “I don’t really know! But we’re back together.”

That happened on a Monday, and Wednesday, she flew out to Uman, to keep her promise.

She came back this year with her three roommates, to say thank you for saving her parents’ marriage.

Story number 2

There was a frum couple, already in their early fifties, who showed up to the grave with a stack of fliers to give out, and two babies. The fliers told their story: They’d been married for more than two decades, and hadn’t had any children.

They’d tried everything: there wasn’t a doctor, a specialist, a rabbi, a segula that they hadn’t tried to merit having children. They’d literally spent hundreds of thousands of dollars flying all over the world, trying to find the person, the solution, that was going to enable them to have children.

One day, the couple met a Breslever chassid, who told them they needed to go to the biggest doctor in the world. The man was all ears: who was he? Where did he live? The chassid told him: ‘Rebbe Nachman, in Uman’ – and by his own admission, the man was pretty turned off.

After all, they’d already tried every rabbi, every Admor, and no-one had been able to help them.

“Ah, but Rebbe Nachman is a doctor, not just a Rebbe. He’s going to fix your problem at its root.”

The man was still not very impressed, but his wife felt it was worth a shot: why not? They’d tried everything else. Finally he agreed to visit the grave in Uman, but on condition that he was only going to stay for 10 minutes.

The couple arrived, and he reminded his wife to be waiting outside for him, promptly, after 10 minutes.

The man stepped into the enclosure around the kever – and immediately started crying. He stood there, sobbing from the depths of his heart, for two and a half hours solid, without keeping track of the time.

Suddenly, he looked at the clock, and realised his wife had probably been waiting for him, and wondering what had happened to him, for two hours already.

He rushed outside to find her – and just at that moment, he saw her coming out of the entrance to the women’s section. Turns out, she’d also stepped inside, and started sobbing hysterically. She’d only just come to her senses, and was rushing outside to find her husband.

A year later, the couple were blessed with twins.

They came back to Uman to say thank you to Rebbe Nachman for their miracle, and to share their story.