My dear brother, Rav Raz Hartman told me the other day, that he loved what I had so far written, but he’s waiting to read what I have to say about Rebbe Nachman. I told him, “all good things in all good time.” I first will continue to report and after that, get into the spiritual implications and gleanings from the trip.

Friday had a certain strange quality to it. There was no place I was required to be, no expectations from anyone, no one looking over my shoulder. While each person is fully involved in their own ‘trip’, serious and focused, there was none of the coldness, none of the avoidance of catching another’s eye or being caught. Most of the time, one finds people doing serious internal work, especially of a religious nature, to be so pre and self occupied, that they remain oblivious to the ‘other.’ Even more, they don’t want to be taken out of their game and flow by the slightest distraction. Again, this was not the case in Uman.

So I was truly free in all ways to do or not to do, to be or not to be. It made it easier to do and to be. Again, being a newbie, I had no idea of the Uman Shabbat flow. How were minyanim, prayer services, organized? What about meals. I was advised to bring food, ‘just in case.’ So I brought a grilled chicken, salami, canned tuna, pistacios, wine, rolls, bourbon, candles, forks, knives, plate, etc. I was prepared.

Cruising around, I began to run into the few familiar faces. Three were former students from Bat Ayin, two I was instrumental in bringing to Israel. They are married with kids and living serious, amazing, holy lives. We agreed to have our Shabbat feast together. I worked out a schedule for mikve (ritual bath) and my Shabbat preparations in my mind and it all flowed perfectly. When I came to the larger, outer enclosure of the tzion – the grave – of Rebbe Nachman, I counted six different minyanim; some already begun, some just coming together. Eliminating the ones too far along, I cruised the scene until I came to the inner, small enclosure that created intimate space right at the grave. And low and behold….

They were davening Shlomo davening! For the uninitiated, there are all kinds of ways to say the prayers; fast or slow, with song and without song, with dance or without dance, quietly or noisily. Reb Shlomo’s way was with song and dance. And it takes time. It’s possible to go to an Orthodox synagogue Friday night and be done within 40-45 minutes. A Reb Shlomo davening can take more than an hour and half. For many, that’s a real challenge, especially if they are not natural to such joyous expressions of prayer. Further, a man who is head of a household and all that implies, hard work at his job, being and attentive husband and father, has to be concerned about keeping his family waiting for the Shabbat feast. Even more, he is truly exhausted from the week. And the rest of Shabbat, the sleep of Shabbat, is critical to letting go of the week and getting new strength, new energy for the coming week.

I didn’t expect a Shlomo minyan and to have it right there at the grave, my joy knew no limits! I knew no one there. There was not one familiar face. They weren’t ‘Shlomo chassidim.’ And no one knew my connection to Shlomo. It was perfect.

It was the tightest of spaces, like a subway car in New York at rush hour. I had only one foot inside most of the time. I couldn’t get over it. Shlomo davening at the most desired, intimate spot in Uman! I felt so proud FOR Shlomo. For too long, the Orthodox world, defensively and protectively, laughed and sneered at his expansive prayer ‘methodology.’ For too long the Charedi world disdained of Shlomo completely for his charting a new course, a unique course, his own course. And here were a collcetion of every kind of Jew, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, young and old, chassidic and non, charedi and non, etc. And they chose to employ his way. It was an awesome, redemptive moment.

Of course, it made it far easier for me to find my own depth of prayer. The “LeCha Dodi” prayer is the most auspicious time of receiving enlightenment direct from Heaven. While I sing the words with focused conciousness, at the same time, the opening to living the reality that G-d is also speaking to me and to us, is most potent. I can only experience that in a minyan that utilizes Shlomo’s way. This of course assumes that I am in an open place. For too long, I haven’t been. And I am grateful to Uman for creating that opening once again.

For Maariv, I chose to brave the cold of the larger enclosure to have more space to breathe and joined another minyan. It was focused, sweet and real and the song and dance afterwards was warm, close, joyous and loving. The intention of being welcoming to anyone and everyone was profoundly moving and touching. And it was done with the lightest of touch. Just perfect. I remain grateful to HaShem and the Breslover’s who came together as a true, free spiritual collective.

For the feast, I followed the lead of the guys from Bat Ayin. To be continued.