I never planned to be in Uman for Rosh Hashana 5781. Or any other Rosh Hashana, for that matter. It’s a time for men to gather en masse by Rabbenu, and while I miss my husband when he goes, that never meant that I wanted to go with him.
But something bizarre happened this year.
With all the changing laws trying to keep religious Jews from making the trip to Uman this year, my husband ended up buying 3 tickets to Uman this year, and the 3rd one meant that he’d be spending 3 1/2 weeks in Ukraine, to beat the deadline for when the Ukraine would bar entry to religious Jews coming to Uman.
When he told me that, I felt pretty unwell.
In fact, when I checked with my two daughters, we discovered that we all felt pretty queasy at the idea of my husband going alone, for so long, this year.
So the unthinkable happened – and on a spur of the moment, we also got tickets for Uman.
I will gloss over the horrible trip, that saw us literally running through 3 different airports across Europe in the space of 24 hours, trying to make impossible connecting flights, while having to wear a mask pulled up over our noses.
And I’ll gloss over the awful treatment we got in Zhuliany airport in Kiev, when we were interrogated like criminals, then forced to sign a deportation order in Ukrainian (without knowing what it was we were signing), then left to spend 3 days (!) in the airport until the next flight that could get to Israel, until by some miracle we were unconditionally released 20 minutes before Shabbat instead.
Somehow, despite all that, we got to Uman.
And, even more miraculously, we managed to find a decent place to rent as a family, in a city that usually rents houses by the bed.
That was two weeks ago.
In that time, I’ve had to learn about where to buy kosher cheese, where to get soap powder, how to bargain in Ukrainian using sign language, and how to climb up and down a big wooden bunk bed without killing myself in the process.
Mostly, it’s been good to be here.
But it’s still such a rollercoaster, and every day when I step outside onto Pushkina, I have no idea what the mood here is going to be.
It’s definitely subdued.
Big signs have now appeared on the local shops with the usual mask / social distancing / OCD handwashing propaganda I was so pleased to have left behind in the State of Israel.
The Tziyon of Rabbenu has been taken over by a black metal ‘snake’ that the askanim here say is necessary if we want more people to be let into Uman for Rosh Hashana.
Word on the grapevine is that it’s all going to boil down to bribes.
The State of Israel paid the Ukraine a massive bribe to bar the gathering for Uman, and the Breslov leaders are now desperately seeing if they can raise the cash to outbid the Israeli bribe, and get the gates open.
Nobody knows if that’s possible.
And in the meantime, people are walking around way less, staying inside way more, and spending much less time in the kever, because:
a) the ‘snake’ is ensuring that on the mens’ side
b) the mask enforcement and panic about pop-up visits from Ukrainian officials is kinda killing things on the women’s side, too.
Yesterday, after I discovered that my blog has been hacked in a very professional manner, that is going to take me days and days to fix (hopefully, I can fix it….) – I have to admit to the despair taking me out a little.
Yes, I know Rabbenu teaches there is no despair in the world, but I spent half an hour crying, nevertheless, about how easy it appears to be for the darkness to obliterate the light.
Then I pulled myself together, and made supper.
Because this year in Uman, I don’t have the luxury of praying and meditating and thinking so much. I have to handwash everything me and my family are wearing, I have to make pots of rice, I have to clean toilets and sinks.
It’s a very unusual experience.
Today, the grapevine wafted the news my way that Israel may ban flights back in for 3 weeks, starting next Friday, as part of their planned (politically motivated) lockdown.
Currently, my flight back is booked for the day after Rosh Hashana, and I have been batting away worrying ideas about being forced into ‘coronavirus hotels’ when I get back to the Aretz.
Now, I have something else to try to pretend-ignore, so I don’t get too anxious about it: getting stuck in Ukraine for Sukkot.
With all my family.
And no washing machine.
And great as Shiner’s food is (and mamash, God should bless him for his kindness in helping so many of the visitors to Uman with at least one square meal a day) – no-one seems to have heard of whole-wheat flour here.
What’s keeping me going is the thought that Rav Berland has taught us so many times, that Rabbenu can cancel any decree in the world, if it’s pushed off until Rosh Hashana.
This whole Corona Virus thing was meant to be way worse, but the Rav sweetened it, and the moment of reckoning got pushed off until Rosh Hashana 5781.
Rabbenu can take that ‘snake’ out in a second, once we get to Rosh Hashana.
And what is dismantled here in Uman, is dismantled in the rest of the world, too.
Rav Berland taught a few months back that mesirut nefesh, self-sacrifice, can stop the destruction.
There are so many Jews who have already given up so much to be here for Rosh Hashana 5781, even though that is still a week away. Some left jobs that won’t be there for them, when they return. Some left families. Some have been stuck in very difficult circumstances at the border of Ukraine, in a few different locations.
Others have flown literally half way around the world, trying to find a way in.
Others have paid out so much cash for tickets…and tickets….and tickets….
The list goes on and on.
I’m eating white bread and handwashing towels for three weeks – which might not sound like a lot of mesirut nefesh to you, but for me it’s a really big deal.
I mean, I drink kombucha on a regular basis, when I’m at home.
It’s been such a hard, difficult year for so many of us, hasn’t it? And that’s with the Rav sweetening things so much, via his tremendous mesirut nefesh.
But we really need the ‘sweet’ part of this sweetened geula process to show up soon.
And when it does, I have a feeling it will first make itself felt in Uman. And if that’s true, I’ll be sure to tell you when it happens.