For years, my friends, teachers, students, collegues would nudnik me: “Moish! Uman! What are you waiting for?” Reb Shlomo said, “Everyone has to rebbes. Their own and Reb Nachman.” So if I’m a chassid of Reb Shlomo, then I’m a chassid of Reb Nachman and Reb Nachman said, “If you come to me in Uman, I’ll do all in my power to extract you from the place you’re stuck in.” And who doesn’t find themselves sometimes stuck? Who doesn’t find themselves running on empty, approaching despair, feeling a void as to where to turn? So there’s Uman.

But I never received an invitation, I never heard the ‘call.’ As the main focal time to come is Rosh HaShana, I couldn’t imagine anything holier than to be in Yerushalayim. I couldn’t imagine leaving the Land to open up the gates of prayer and blessing for the new year. It just seemed counter intuitive. And then I fell ill.

I was so weak that all I could do was be in bed and read. Among the books that came my way was a book by Reb Gedalia Fleer. Born in Brooklyn into a secular family in the 40’s, he slowly came to connect with Judaism and the nascent Breslov Chassidic community. Learning about the power and efficacy of making the pilgrimage to Uman, he was challenged by the impossibility of going during the rule of the Soviet Union, which had forbidden and closed Uman to just such a journey. But nothing could hold him back. And indeed, he became the first person outside the Soviet Union to make it. In and off itself, the story is awesome and inspiring as any adventure book might be.

The results of his devotion are evident. Since then, from a begining heroic trickle, the journey to Uman is now taken up by thousands, and not just by identifiably Breslov Chassidim. This past Rosh HaShanah it was estimated that some 30,000 people came. Truly impressive numbers, they command our attention.

While reading the book, I was humbled and inspired by the devotion of the handleful of holy Jews within the Soviet Union who worked to remain authentic Chassidim and make their way to Uman. Their humility and seriousness struck me in a powerful way and so it came to me; “I need to get to Uman.” That night a brother and friend had the thought, “I need to get Moish to Uman.” Over the next two weeks, I heard from three people that their was someone who was sponsoring a trip to Uman for me. I didn’t know who it was, but it served as confirmation. And it came together for me to go for the second Shabbat Chanukah.

Some more sychronicity: Chanukah is significant. Shabbat is significant. Shabbat Chanukah is significant. The last day of Chanukah is significant. Shabbat where the last day of Chanukah falls on Shabbat is significant. My true birthday is the second night Chanukah; it fell on Dec. 17th. December 14th is my solar birthday. (read my post “On the Eve of My Trip to Uman for the astrological omens I was operating under. It just adds to the mix.) All this coming together this year as it did expanded exponentially the significance of the pilgrimage for me.

I need to add another personal note before the report begins. For me, experiencing the immanence of HaShem, is central to accomplishing anything. Indeed it is critical for life itself. I never had to be taught about G-d. I simply never G-d. I talked to HaShem from the earliest age. I directed my troubles and needs to Heaven. As I grew up and suffered the imposition of society’s permissible reality and the narrow intellectual focus of a modern day yeshiva education, that sense of immanence dissapated. Only Reb Shlomo could invoke within me that sense that what I knew to be true as a child, was indeed true. I received HaShem vicariously through Reb Shlomo. Eventually, even Reb Shlomo could no longer suffice to fill my empty spaces. I needed to to be able to find and draw all this from within.

But how do you do that in suit and tie New York business life. While I could have a taste of heaven and the divine on Shabbat with Shlomo, as soon as Saturday night became Saturday night, it was gone. The community scattered to the imperatives that life in Manhattan imposed. I so remember the utter lonliness of leaving the synagogue on West 79th Street, walking up the hill to go home, wondering how we could just leave. How could we not invest ourselves in devoting all our time and energy in making manifest the visions and vistas opened by Reb Shlomo during Shabbat? It was the only thing I ever really desired.

One day I will write a book about the seminal event that led to the committment to find a way to do just that. For now, allow me the following abridged version. At the conclusion of services, Shabbat Parshat Bamidbar, June 3rd, 1989, the Torah reader came to me and said, “Moish, you look particularly miserable these days. There’s a picnic tomorrow in Central Park. Why don’t you come.” I responded, “What picnic?” He said, “Just come.” So I came. It was the annual Central Park Rainbow Family picnic. Over a thousand hippies gathered. It was like a dream and hallucination. I had travelled back 20 years to a world I was far too intimidated to connect with when it was in its heyday. I was hugged and smiled at and loved. They were bright, beautiful and shinning. And they exuded none of the cynacism, anger, competition, greed, calousness and shallowness that was all pervasive in the business world. The next step was eay.

The next morning, I prepared for work as I always had, Showered, beard carefully trimmed, suit on and then tie my tie. And all of a sudden I forgot how. I just couldn’t figure out how to do something I did every Shabbat, holiday and work day over a lifetime. And right then and there, I said, “No more!” And then I spoke to G-d. I said that I just can’t do this anymore. I could not live this lie anymore. I said, “Master of the World, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I just can’t do this anymore. I might be homeless and hungry on the street, but my life can no longer be about getting the money to maintain a life that will allow me to get money so that I can have a life that allows me to get money, so that, so that, so that….” And I might not keep Shabbos and kashrus, but I’m not running away from You. I’m running to you! I don’t want to live in the world without knowing that Shlomo’s Torah is true. And You just have to show me!”

That was the genisis of my hippie journey and the source of what makes me so strange and different for so many people. I simply could not go any longer without living the immanence of G-d. At that picnic someone gave me some psychedelic mushrooms. And trust me, at 36, there was no one more naive and ignorant of such things. However, after eating them a week later and spending the day with Reb Shlomo, everything was different; the veil was lifted and the haze evaporated. It was as if I was hearing him for the first time. All of a sudden, HaShem and all that that meant was alive for me again. And for the first time since childhood, I felt alive.

I left psychedelics behind some 15 plus years ago. The new knowledge and understanding aquired through listening and reading and asking question and outrageous experiences and awesome magical people, combined with all that living in Yerushalayim and a world of Torah provided, carried me a long way. But with life’s dissappointments, with the effects of war, disease and suffering so close to home, I grew dark and angry. While my conversation with HaShem never ceased, HaShem was far away. Or I was. And any benefit from my avodah, from my living committment as a Torah Jew, radical in my way as I have been, ran dry. I even began to think that maybe I needed to trip again; clear the pipes, so-to-speak. Get an immanence jump start. However, I now fear psychedelics. And Shlomo is gone and I’m running on empty.

And then heaven gave me Uman.

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