Next Stop, Uman

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Rebbe Nachman’s gravesite in Uman
Rebbe Nachman’s gravesite in Uman

By Larry Gordon

It’s nearly the end of the year 5775, which, amongst other things, means that 5776 is on the way. For Jews around the world, that means looking back and reflecting with an eye and a prayer for our good personal and communal future.

For about 35,000 of our people from around the world, the advent of Rosh Hashanah means that it is time to begin packing some extra white shirts because they are on their way to spend Rosh Hashanah at the kever of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who is buried in this otherwise obscure city of Uman, Ukraine.

I began thinking about Uman and Rosh Hashanah earlier this week when I overheard two men behind me in shul—after davening—asking one another whether they were going to Uman this year. One said he was definitely going while the other said he was not sure.

Later that same day, I received an e-mail from Zvi Gluck of Amudim Community Resources, a go-to guy for Orthodox Jews and others who find themselves in difficult circumstances and an individual who frequently is utilized as the go-between person to law enforcement locally and nationally.

The item I received from Gluck was from the embassy of the United States of America in Kiev, Ukraine. The Ukraine always sounded to me as not the most optimal vacation spot on the globe. Now that there is an on-again, off-again war going on there, with a little dash of terrorism thrown in for good measure, one would guess that people will be thinking twice or three times about making that trip.

I suggest to Gluck the notion of not going this year and he asks me if I’m kidding. When you go on the sacred pilgrimage to the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman, you have a built-in Divine protection that travels with you, he seems to suggest.

Gluck, like many others, including one of the men I heard talking about the matter in shul the other day, are leaving their wives and children behind for about a week this year because of the way Rosh Hashanah falls on the calendar.

For his part, Zvi Gluck says, he is leaving New York next Wednesday, has a stopover in Paris, and then it’s on to Kiev, where he will rent a car for the drive to Uman. Once in Uman, he and his group of friends rent an apartment from the locals who are accustomed to vacating their homes and renting them to the influx of Jewish pilgrims for as much as $1,000 for the week—more than the average Ukrainian makes in six months.

Zvi explains that there are different levels of accommodations in the city, running from as low as $400 up to $1,000 or more. Jews will be flocking to Uman from just about every corner of the world. Gluck estimates that about 5,000 people from the United States—most from the New York area—attend yom tov in Uman.

As far as the warning from the U.S. embassy in Kiev and the State Department about travel to the Ukraine, it states in part: “Exercise situational awareness and maintain a low profile to help prevent becoming a victim of crime. According to the Ukrainian government, criminal activity throughout Ukraine is increasing. Non-violent crimes, such as pickpocketing, cellphone theft, and purse-snatching, remain prevalent and constitute a majority of the reported non-violent crimes. U.S. citizens are targeted for criminal activity when such opportunities present themselves and criminals have not hesitated to use violence if victims resist. The embassy routinely receives reports of ATM and credit card fraud throughout Ukraine. The embassy recommends against using any ATMs, but if necessary use ATMs situated inside banks. ATMs on the streets and in bars/clubs often have malicious code installed to steal your information. The embassy recommends exercising extreme caution when using credit cards. Try to use cash wherever possible to avoid credit card and ATM card compromise.”

On the surface, it certainly sounds like a tough and dangerous situation. But then again, the State Department posts these warnings all the time about travel to Israel, and especially in the Old City of Jerusalem, where young and not-so-young people routinely walk unbothered in the middle of the night. Still, the Ukraine sounds more dangerous than Israel. But then again if I were planning to go, that wouldn’t stop me.

Having never been there, I speculate that it must be distracting and difficult to daven on Rosh Hashanah with so many people constantly moving about. Gluck insists that it is exactly the opposite. He says he and his group sit in shul all day and that they could not do that in New York, mostly because of the kids, though this year, he says, he is taking one of his children with him to Uman.

About the davening itself over Rosh Hashanah, Zvi says the ability to take davening to the highest levels possible are more present in Uman than any other place in the world at this time of year.

After he insists that I have to join him next year to see for myself, he adds that the overall Uman experience and undertaking is quite an awesome enterprise. A great deal of the expenses like food and other accommodations are underwritten by several philanthropists, which makes it possible for so many to experience Rosh Hashanah there in the first place.

He explains that for meals there are large dining halls but also a number of tents set up by various Rebbes and rabbanim who lead the meals for their people. This year, to get there on time for Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Sunday night, one has to arrive before Shabbos, which extends the stay from at least Thursday through the following Wednesday.

As far as those who seem to unfortunately attract most of the media attention at a conclave of this size, Zvi says there is not much anyone can do about that. He says that out of the 35,000 people who will be there, maybe 500 are what he calls “troublemakers.” It is annoying and disruptive but certainly not representative of the overall desire to spend the High Holy Days in what those who attend feel is an elevated and holy environment that enhances their davening.

The estimate is that tens of millions of dollars are expended on Rosh Hashanah in Uman, Ukraine. There is ample criticism about the expenditure, with some complaining that the Israeli economy can use that kind of economic infusion. As to the idea that has been discussed for years about reinterring Rebbe Nachman in EretzYisrael, that notion has been dismissed by the powers that be within the Breslov movement. I asked Zvi what he thought of the idea. “Rav Nachman made it clear that he wanted to be buried here in Uman,” he said.

• • •

Supporting Dor Yeshorim

This organization is part of the communal landscape, with few ever asking where it came from and why. It is also part of the vernacular, with schools and yeshivas routinely offering testing to students and assigning those tested with an identification number to be used when they are seriously considering a shidduch.

Before a couple becomes engaged or sometimes even after the third or fourth date, a family member, usually a parent, calls the Dor Yeshorim office in Brooklyn and offers up two ID numbers, one for the man and the other for the woman involved in the relationship. A day or so later, the families get a call that informs the family as to whether, in terms of genetically carried serious diseases, the shidduch is a healthy match or not.

The potential maladies that Dor Yeshorim currently tests for are Tay-Sachs disease, familial dysautonomia, cystic fibrosis, Canavan disease, glycogen storage disease (type 1), Fanconi anemia (type C), Bloom syndrome, Niemann–Pick disease, mucolipidosis type IV, and Gaucher’s disease (only by request).

The organization’s budget is over $3 million annually, with much more testing that could be done if they had the budget for it. So now they are turning to the community for help.

On Sunday, September 6, Dr. Jay and Cheryl Bienenfeld will open their home to the Five Towns community. The Bienenfelds will be hosting “Rise ‘n Shine,” a breakfast in support of Dor Yeshorim. The event promises to be memorable and impactful.

A rabbinical committee has been formed in support of the event; its members include Rabbi Yaakov Feitman, Rabbi Berish Friedman, Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg, Rabbi Dovid Spiegel, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, and Rabbi Naftali Zvi Weitz. Additionally, the reception committee includes over a dozen respected community members: Moshe Beer, Binyamin Casper, Yossi Farber, Dr. Richard Friedman, Moshe Hammer, Dr. Steven Kadish, Meir Krengel, Robert Levinson, Stanley Liker, Steven Liker, Shimshie Rosenberg, Shmuel Schechter, Rabbi Daniel Schwechter, Mendy Wechter, and Hillel Zand. Rabbi Paysach Krohn will be delivering the keynote address.

Dor Yeshorim is most widely known for its extensive and trailblazing work in providing genetic screenings to singles within the Jewish community, preventing the occurrence of tragic and often fatal genetic diseases. What seems like a simple blood test for young adults is actually a fraction of the exhaustive work Dor Yeshorim does for the Jewish community worldwide. Bloodwork sampled by Dor Yeshorim is run through a state-of-the-art laboratory so each individual’s DNA results can be entered into a database where genetic compatibility for a potential couple can be assessed. The entire process is done with utmost confidentiality and at minimal cost to the participant.

Dor Yeshorim has also initiated and continues to spearhead new, never-attempted research to better understand Jewish genetic diseases. Dor Yeshorim takes the leading role, working with specialists to study and identify genetic mutations for under-researched Jewish genetic diseases. This groundbreaking research is used to prevent recurrences in affected families as well as create the ability to screen for these diseases in routine premarital screenings. Dor Yeshorim also provides counseling and support for hundreds of families with children affected by rare genetic diseases and is the go-to source for families seeking help with research, treatment, and prevention of familial diseases.

The purpose of this event is to support Dor Yeshorim through bringing awareness to attendees of the tireless and invaluable work it does for the Jewish community. “I am honored to be able to partake in this monumental event,” says Rabbi Chaim Brown, director of development at Dor Yeshorim, “and to be given the opportunity to impress upon the community the essential nature of Dor Yeshorim as an unparalleled, vital contributor to the health of our future generations.” Dor Yeshorim looks forward to uniting the Five Towns community in the battle against Jewish genetic disease.

For more information, contact Dor Yeshorim at 718-384-6060 or at info@DorYeshorim.org.

Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at editor@5tjt.com.

 

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