The letters of our thoughts are the ideas present in our mind before they come to realization . . . Thoughts that are, yet not felt . . . The words of the subconscious . . . of the soul . . .


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Lubavitcher Pesach in Uman III - Mo Mot Motte Mottel M'Uman

To read about the Seder in Uman click the link below!

Arriving in Uman Erev Yom Tov, we were taken to the Jewish Community Center . . . in truth a standard Soviet apartment building refitted as the office of the Jewish Community of Uman. Like most communist apartments, the kitchen seemed ridiculously small by even the most humble of American standards. The water didn't run from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, so to that end the community used the bathtub to hold water for use.
Rather overwhelmed from the two and a half hour trip from Cherkasy, and a good two hours before sundown, we decided to take a walk to the 'Breslov' side of town to get some air and use their Mikvah.

For those not versed in the Chassidic lore and current popular Jewish movements, Uman is site to the burial place of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Despite only spending a brief period of time in the city, the presence of the more then 20,000 Jewish martyrs buried following the Haidamak massacre drew his attention to the place as being "a good place to be buried."

In any event, the Breslov custom of praying by the site on Rosh Hashana has swelled in popularity over the past several years and now attracts around 30,000 pilgrims.

To the local Jews, thoroughly lacking in Jewish education like most survivors of the Soviet regime, the presence of what could even be called a Chassidic celebrity in their town was somewhat of an enigma.

From one angle it seemed to be a source of great pride - they constantly asked us about our thoughts on visiting Megila Nachmana, the resting place of Rebbe Nachman - or as they termed it, to be by the 'Der Tzadik'. They would ask us if he enjoyed the amazing benefits of Jewish life in the town, if we had words of inspiration from Rebbe Nachman (more on that later) and the like.   
Yet they also seemed somewhat estranged from the goings on of the Breslov area . . . As if it were some separate world that had little to do with them. They joked, in classic sardonic Russian Jewish humor, about religion being for Pushkina street (where Rebbe Nachman is buried).

The visiting Breslovers also seemed to have several rather divergent ways of relating to the higge Yidden - there were photos a Purim Megilla reading in the JCC that Breslov had done some time back - but a bochur who told us he'd lived in Uman for severla years claimed that while he knew there were local Jews in Uman, he didn't have a clue as to how many there were . . . or where they were in the city.

In any event:

With the directions to Megila Nachmana in hand, we set off in a Taxi to Pushkina street.

Rolling through a rather average and nondescript Ukranian towns - full of Babushkas, Chuvaks, Popoykas
and chickens - we turned down a long road . . . and somehow ended up in Bnei Brak.

Stores suddenly advertised products in Hebrew, Hechsherim appeared on drinking fountains . . . and bumperstickers shouting various slogans plastered every available inch of free space.

Pizza and Falafel - talk about taking the man of Israel, but not the Israel out of the man!

One of the massive hotels for the many guests that visit.

Minimarket Uman

The mikva itself was somewhat of a disappointment - cramped and with out hot water in the showers (at least the pool itself was nice and hot) we met two Yerushalmi style Breslover Chassidim.
Outside the Mikvah, as the sun began to wane, rapidly ushering in the festival, we wandered around looking for a ride back to the Jewish Community.

The vibrant cast of characters at the tzadik's grave - a Russian Jew in a Kasket that only spoke Yiddish, a handful of Sefardim that only spoke Hebrew, a French Jew in designer jeans and a leather jacket, and an American dude dressed all in white - were all settling in for Yom Tov.

Not wanting to be stuck walking down the street once Pesach began, we tried to tramp a ride with a passing locals.
A small Citroën pulled up next to us and ushered us in.
Already full with a few local youths, they made room for us in the back seat.
In the front there was a portable DVD player for the driver to watch movies while driving, and a large icon hanging from the rear view mirror.
   "Where are you going?" He asked us gruffly in a Ukranian accented Russian.
   "21 Gogol street," I told him. "Near Lenin street."

After looking at one of his friends for a reassuring nod, he turned to us and said,
   "I know where it is. Oh an don't smoke in the car." With the flick of the wrist, the electronic beat of Ukranian Techno music filled the car, and we were zooming to our Pesach seder.

Before leaving the car, I withdrew twelve Grivna - five more then seven it cost to go by taxi to Megila Nachmana  and handed it to the driver.

   "Thank you," I said.
   "I want Twenty," he told me.
   "But the taxi only cost seven!" I responded.
   "No," he scowled. "Twenty . . ."

We handed him another eight and left even at that price, we'd only paid 2.50 American for the trip.

Outside we met a host of local Jews waiting for us.
Karl Epshtein, a broad shouldered man in his eighties and head of the community; Yevgenny, a slightly younger man with a mouth of gold teeth and a prankster's sense of humor; and Alec, the Yiddish speaking scholar of the group, all greeted us.

Luba  lighting candles for the Seder

The seder with the 16 local Jews was quiet lovely.

Yevgenny claimed Dayeinu was his favorite song (Di in Heberew means enough . . . but in Russian it means to give - hence his favor for the song) and Alec, who superbly translated our seder, whipped out a bottle of vodka for the meal. When we told him that it wasn't Kosher for Passover, he replied with some level indignation that it was made of potatoes, and thus Kosher for Passover.
  "Why do you think I am?" He asked, "A goy?"

A lady named Tanya from nearby shtetle of Krasnapolka, with a love affair for all things Nachman, asked us to say over the various stories of the Rabbi (I was lucky enough to know the one about the prince who thought he was a turkey) . . .  and in general asked us questions in her thickly Ukranian accented Russian (She would even substitute the Ukrainian G (a throaty H) for her Gimmels in Hebrew!).

Most touching of all, however, were the stories of Karl.
At first we thought he was speaking to us to Yiddish . . . but after a minute or so, it became clear he was in fact speaking in German. When one of the other locals asked him why he spoke German, he shrugged his shoulders, 

   "I had to learn it in the camps, why shouldn't I be able to speak it?"

During Operation Barbarossa, the Germans entered Uman, and immediately hung two dozen of the cities notable Jewish figures (doctors, lawyers and the like). A few days later, several hundred local Jews were locked in a basement of a local school, and suffocated with car exhaust. Karl, at the time only 11, was shuffled along with the cities other 21,000 Jews into a make ship Ghetto. From there he was transported to Treblinka, and later a labor-camp outside of Berlin.
When he'd returned with the triumphant Red Army, he found his five siblings and parents to have been shot in the woods by the Einsatzgruppen along with 6,000 other Jewish residents of Uman.

"You see this lady," He pointed to a rather serene looking Jewess in her mid-sixties. "She was a year old when they took her mother to be shot in the woods. She held onto her mother, and fell into the pit with her when she was shot. A non-Jew heard her crying and dug her out . . . "

Yom Tov came and went. We walked around the lovely Sofiyivsky park with Tanya . . .

Motzei Yom Tov we made Havdala for Luba and Lena (another local lady, who enjoyed telling Jokes about Jews named Chaim) and then went back to Cherkasy.

Outside the Kever.

Stay tuned for the last an final installment of A Lubavitcher Pesach in Uman!

Catch up on parts I and II

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Leora said...

Another fine post. Your Shoa stories are haunting.

Did you do anything to the photo of Luba? It looks like she is all brightly colored, but (is that you?) the two men behind look sepia. A wonderful photo.

chanie said...

Mo Mot Motte Mottel M'Uman

The "l" should only be in the last one...(but cute anyways).

Mottel said...

-Leora: I'm glad you liked it! Yes the picture with Luba was touched up. I put her in focal b&w, making everything besides her colorless, then warmified the entire shot, casting everyone in Sepia, and giving her a deeper, redder, glow. I am the bochur in the picture, the guy sitting under me is Edik.

-Chanie: I never went to Tzfas to learn hilchos Na Nach. Corrected though.

chanie said...

-Don't need to learn hilchot Na Nach- you just need to see the graffiti!
I saw- thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

Wonderful photos, Mottel. I'm not going to Ukraine but I am going to Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and Netherlands in the summer to visit a number of memorials - including Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen. I'm not sure if 'looking forward' to the trip is the right phrase, but it will certainly be an experience I won't forget.

Shabbat Shalom to you.


Mottel said...

-ShavuaTov: Emjoy those countries . . . Poland, with all the Holocaust stuff and negative feelings, gets a bit of a bad rap. It's actually a fairly nice place to visit. If you stop by Warsaw send my regards to the Rabbi there. Takes lots of pictures so we can see some on your blog . . .