more ooman

with 2 comments

From the start.

Vilnius airport is, first of all, just a lovely departure experience: the place processes about one flight/hr, so all lines, security, and accompanying stress evaporate. I’m flying direct to Kiev (a not-inconsiderable perk of living in Vilnius; also, really cheap+delicious tomatoes) and blamo: I spot a kipah. First Uman connection.

Two Israelis, living in Lithuania. There’re about 100 hummus-munchers, apparently, studying in medical school in Kaunas. (I know – wtf?)  One of them has been before (a healthy majority of Umaners I meet are repeats), and is a trove of info. We make plans to share a cab from airport, or however it works.

Americans, Canadians, and citizens of most western countries do not need a visa if their Ukrainian visit is under ninety days. Isrealis (and approx. 30k make the trip) do, and it’s pricey, a cool $120. This has implications, aside from obvious expense: Israeli/Breslovers, not renowned for meticulous planning, can’t make an impulsive last-minute trip. So attendance here is artificially capped somewhat – next year, reportedly, the visa requirement will be relaxed, and, one imagines, many many more will make the journey. (For the slow / mathematically-challenged: 30000x$120=a lot of money that Ukrainians have been convinced to part with.)

Not that the people here have planned properly. I’ve been asked multiple times to contribute money for someone’s return fare. (I mean, to step outside of Breslov mentality for a quick second and into silly reality: and what if he can’t raise the money? It’s quite a hitchhike home.) My incredulity/curiosity was only held in check by politeness, and the fact that I didn’t give him anything. Locals are standing on the street, signs on their necks declaring available rentals. Guys are buying air mattresses.

The main street, Pushkin, is lined all hours with vendors, a hodgepodge of Ukrainian and Israelis. Everyone accepts shekels and dollars; I barely see any Ukrainian dinars (I made that currency up – it’s something like grebnes; not worth my internet time to check it up). The Ukrainian shopkeepers speak a battered Hebrew (never English), but it’s more than enough for commerce. All told, there’s a surprisingly efficient infrastructure in place: most visitors don’t even have to exchange money at any point. There’s evidential co-operation with the authorities: plenty of cops and military men, who don’t hassle anyone. (To put in perspective: our cab driver was stopped three times before leaving the airport. Bribes were negotiated.)

I’m staying at the parents of Vladek, who’s some kind of local genius entrepreneur; the Uman macher. His wife won’t let him rent his own place out, so he adopts his parents for the week and rents out theirs. He speaks a decent English (which is nonexistent in these parts) and a decent Hebrew. Like I said, macher.

The kloyz (the shul) is huge, the people are many and wild, the mikvah is wet and sweaty. Mostly what you would imagine. The operative question here is what’s propelling this phenomenon beyond what would otherwise be expected. Yes, the fall of the Soviet Union certainly helped. (This sort of stuff will be expanded in the article; I’m technically here on assignment.) But here’s what I’m getting so far: the Breslov ideology/community is hitting a sort of spiritual chord. Young Israelis (and they’re the engine here) are disillusioned, uncertain, perhaps unhappy. Breslov is neo-hasidic, emphatic on the happiness, the joy and experience of life. It’s a hasidic antidote of sorts.

More, more, more to come (including a barrage of pics), though I don’t know if I’ll have a chance before the holiday starts to post anything.

Written by menachemkaiser

8 September at 02:48

Posted in rants

2 Responses

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  1. this is really beautiful and fascinating.
    (also, why isn’t it showing up on my google reader anymore? is this a problem on my end or yours?)


    10 September at 00:14

    • mmmm.. it still says you’re subscribed.. i think we’ve just reached the limit of our collective technical blogging skills.


      12 September at 09:03

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