The Power of my Pilgrimage to Uman

Uman

It doesn’t matter how I got to Kiev and it doesn’t matter what I did there. What does matter is that I was on my way to Uman. Uman? Why would anyone travel 3 1/2 hours from Kiev through the agricultural countryside of the Ukraine, hour after hour in 99 degrees with 99% humidity in a car that sputtered, spouted and stalled every 40 to 45 minutes? I didn’t know why I was on this road, but I was. I had no real idea what to expect, except for the fact that I was on my way to Uman.

One night about a year ago I happened upon a website that told of a gravesite in Uman, Ukraine of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav (April 4, 1772 – October 16, 1810), the great-grandson of the founder of Hasidism. I learned of the wisdom and the teaching of this Rebbe and how his teachings have carried on for two hundred years after his death.   Rebbe Nachman of Breslov promises that whoever comes to his gravesite and recites the Ten Psalms of the Tikkun K”lali and gives as little as one cent to charity, will be cleansed and protected.

I became convinced that I had a calling to go to this Rebbe’s grave to ask forgiveness for the remembrances of the prejudices towards me so many times in my life for being Jewish and be absolved from my unforgiving attitude towards temple life stemming from the fact that the Rabbi would not let me participate in the confirmation of all of the girls in my class. We had communal confirmations in those days at that temple, not the modern day Bat Mitzvahs. I was called to the Rabbi’s office, fearing the worst and knowing this was something out of the normal; I crept inside his office with great trepidations. I was well behaved and was a good tutor for the rest of the girls when they needed a push along the path to our confirmation. Bar Mitzvah was for the boys and we, all of the girls, twelve of us were dedicatedly happy to be the first confirmation class in our temple. All of us were just turning thirteen.

We studied in an upstairs room of the temple and became best friends. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, we would bounce up the stairs, anxious to hear from all of our friends. We were in a time of our lives of pure trust, pure love and innocence. We had little social acceptance in our outside lives, but inside those hallowed walls we were one with ourselves.

Our temple was not an orthodox temple but held to many of their rigid rules. Women and children were delegated to the upstairs, and they did not even think of wandering the ground level. We did have to enter the temple on the lower floor and descend to use the restrooms, we helped in the kitchen, but we never enjoyed the full breadth of the lower levels.

I dawdled getting to the Rabbi’s office. He was busy with someone else, so I waited. I began to feel very nervous and knew something was going to happen. I picked at my nails and scratched at my elbows; the tic in my face went on a rampage. He finally turned his attention to me and paused for what seemed like hours. I could tell he was composing his thoughts, organizing what and how he was going to say what he said. His brows closed together, he started a low groan, and I began to sweat. My mouth went dry, my glasses fogged and my heart began to beat rapidly in anticipation. The Rabbi looked at me with such distance, such conviction. He said in his very thick accent, “Well, Sheila, you will not be confirmed with the rest of the girls.”

“ What? Why not; what happened?”

“ It is my decision that the cut-off date for confirmation girls is August 31st, and your birthday is September 19th. That means you are not eligible.”

“ But Rabbi, I can speak and write Hebrew better than all of them. I help them. You can’t leave me out of the group.”

“ I can, I just did and you will have to come back for another year. You will be confirmed next year.”

It felt like bomb exploded inside of me. All of the venom I had felt brewing, boiling, fermenting, in me spewed out in a blast. I yelled my childish frustration, “I hate you. I hate this temple.”

I ran from that temple and ran all the way home with tears running and heart breaking. On the way home, I was talking with God, asking questions I wanted answered, answering them myself, screaming out obscenities, not really meaning any of it, but feeling quite powerful by the time I reached home. My parents were pillars in the temple, and I knew I had some pretty big explaining to do. I knew the Rabbi would spill all that I had said and give my parents an earful of their obscene daughter’s mouth and her unladylike manners. I didn’t care by then, because I was never going back into that temple, but I also knew that I would be the best Jewish person I could be on my own without a temple. I knew that I was not giving up being Jewish or Judaism, just the ways of this temple and the decision of this Rabbi.

I began to think in earnest about my journey to Rabbi Nachman’s grave and wondered would I ask the Rebbe, if my parents knew when they moved to that little town that I would be the only Jewish girl anyone had ever seen? Did they know when they put me into school that I would be target practice for future anti-Semites? They had many clubs when I got to high school. They had band, orchestra leadership, the chess club, the radio club, varsity baseball, varsity swimming, gymnastics, tennis, cross country, varsity football, the letterman, future engineers of America, future teachers of America, future medics, future hostesses of America, but the club with the most members was the future anti-Semites of America. No one from this club had their pictures taken for preservation in the annual book of memories and no one from this club even knew they were members. Did I have any good memories as I grew up Jewish, oh yes, but I more strongly remember the ones that hurt.

Last year I visited Auschwitz-Berkinau, this year, after going to Babi Yar in Kiev and standing on the rim of a ravine where tens of thousand of Jews had been shot and allowed to fall into a common grave, I began to feel foolish for my angst over the prejudices I felt growing up in my small California town. Our temple consisted of families from eight neighboring cities. I loved my temple because it was the only place in the outside world where I felt accepted, loved, respected and understood. The Rabbi’s decision not to allow me to be confirmed with my friends temporarily tangled my Jewish mind. I was the only Jewish girl in my elementary school; my brother was to enter three years later along with the Rosen boys. I feel guilty that I needed absolution from a Rebbe that has been dead for over 200 years for harboring the resentment towards the prejudiced treatment and inability to cleanse it from my being. I reached a decision that, I could give myself absolution and I did, but the experience planning for and traveling to Uman to visit Rebbe Nachman was a turning point and a stronghold for my Judaism.

I signed up with Youth Hostelling International for the tour to Uman. I explained that I am a senior citizen, not a youth and they said they were available to all travelers. Remember them when you need help traveling. They handled some the difficulties traveling to Uman with ease, grace and with great expertise. I was picked up at 7:30 a.m. The car would not start. After repeated tries, the engine turned over and we pulled out of an alleyway in downtown Kiev heading for the highway leading to Uman. Luckily the driver spoke English, but unluckily he did not know anything much about Uman except that we were to meet a guide in front of the gates to Sofia’s Park. After a lovely, long ride through agricultural lands we turned into a parking lot, which faced the gates leading to a fairyland park with cascades of lakes, sky-blue ponds, fountains, grottoes, antique sculptures, waterfalls and six miles of intense walking ahead of me. The guide approached by saying, “Welcome to the park voted the most beautiful in the universe.” I was anxious to get to Rabbi Nachman’s gravesite and asked why we were here in Sophia’s Park. The guide stated that this was included in the tour I had ordered. I learned something in the Ukraine and that is when you ask for something and when you get it, it is yours. You go with the program designed for you and usually there are no deviations. The walk in the park lasted six hours. The heat was oppressive and there was not another tourist in sight. When the tour ended I realized that the guide was right, Sophia Park is the most beautiful park in the universe, and although I was spent physically, and was astounded by the beauty, I was especially pleased to learn that Rabbi Nachman used to walk in this park when he lived in Uman.

After a brief rest, we began our short journey to the gravesite. When our car arrived, immediately we heard Breslov songs blasting from speakers giving the center of this little town a festival feeling. The car was parked and within a short walking distance, I spot gates and armed guards. Is this Rebbe Nachman’s grave? Why such security? I feel safe. I didn’t know then about this village being the site of awful massacres of tens of thousands of Jews. In the late 1800’s, the Cossacks swept through Jewish settlements in the Pale, killing Jews, looting and destroying villages. I need not wonder anymore why there are armed guards. I was not allowed to enter the Synagogue that holds the grave of Rabbi Nacnman. I could not understand the full extent of what was happening, so I just held on to one of the bars of the gate guarding the gravesite and began to sob uncontrollably. I was sobbing for all of my petty dreams of being cleansed of my chains, sobbing because I had been denied my dream. I had traveled so far now to be denied, I am not used to being denied. A little old man began to speak to me in a friendly kind voice in a language I did not understand. He began ushering me softly to the side of the building. Nothing. “Nothing is here. Why are you doing this?” I asked. He just kept nodding and ushering me gently now towards the back of the building where more armed guards stood. He gave me a small coin and patted it into my hand. He opened my hand pointing to the coin several times. It was important to him that I realize he had put the coin in my hand. His warm hand was constantly moving me and guiding me on to his destination. He put something on my head and gained entrance for me to continue up the stairs on my own.

I climb the few stairs and enter a new dimension. Women. Everyone in this partitioned area is a woman. They hurried up to me, dried my tears and began to ask questions. When I answered in English, they called on one of the younger women to translate. They found out that I had traveled from California to be with them. They asked why I was wearing pants. I told them that I did not know and did not understand where I was going when I began this journey. Yes, I had completely forgotten about the orthodox rule of women being separated from the men during worship. They smiled and I was thunder struck by their beauty. Each smile sparkled like an orthodontic specialist had expertly crafted it. Each face was deeply chiseled with an artisan’s skill and the skin covering their chiseled bones was a deep rich color of the earth. They embraced me and held up the bank where I was to drop my charity. The guide and driver had locked my purse and camera in the trunk of the car and I was without money, or was I? I instantly remember the little old man giving me a coin. I fished it out of my pocket and it flickered and flashed as I put it into the box amid nods and sighs. Then, there was the reciting of the Ten Psalms of the Tikkun K”lali. I sat for long moments looking at the women lying across the shelf of the grave. As I know it now, there are two shelves coming together in a triangular manner, the Rebbe is buried beneath the triangular arch. One side services the men and the other side services the women.

Facing the shelf on the woman’s side and starting left to right, one woman had a folded wedding gown on the shelf under her hand and she was wailing and talking with the Rebbe. I could not begin to understand her words but her motions and her wailing led me to believe that something had gone terribly wrong with her wedding. The next woman had pictures of children, which she kept moving in a circular motion clockwise. She said something over each child and then moved the photo on as she spoke again about the picture placed at noon. Another woman was just standing there with her elbows on the shelf and her head in her hands. Several women were sitting towards the front actually eating what I would call chips. It looked like chips and dip to me, but I know it was just food I do not have words to describe. The pews were dotted with women of various ages and the children that were there never uttered a peep. When I stood to replace my book on the shelves, I heard loud speaking of words I did not understand until I heard California, loudly and clearly. All of the women moved aside from the shelf and my body was splayed out onto the Rebbe’s grave. I once again felt guilty for my petty problems with prejudice and was able to summon up the courage to apologize to those who have suffered the terrors and murders of their people, and I felt guilt for bemoaning the fact that I had been made to sit in the back of the classrooms and having been denied the wearing formal gowns of the Rainbow Girls and the robes of the Jobs Daughters. The girls who were members would come to school with photos of themselves in their magnificent gowns taken during ceremonies. I did so want to wear one of those gowns and be a part of those ceremonies even though I did not know what they preordained. Carol’s gown was aqua net and Winnie was so gifted that she made her own. They wore those gowns every week and seeing them hang in their closets, I would just melt with envy. The group leaders told me that I was not able to join Jobs daughters even though I had a proper Masonic relationship because they had no place for Jewish attendants. I do not believe that Rainbow Girls has a creed to ban Jewish members, but they did specify that you had to have faith in a Supreme Being. Although Rainbow is not a religious organization, in my hometown their Supreme Being was not one in the same with mine.

Dear God, I am sorry for not having stood up for myself and for not praying much earlier for all of those atrocities that others have suffered on this very spot. The women of Uman and the visitation at the place of Rabbi Nachman’s burial have given me answers to who I am, an inspiration and guidance to live and learn wisdom, plus gain a spiritual light to continue my search for a meaningful Jewish life and to preserve it for those who are yet to come.

 

Asian Wonders #17 Ladies who wear the Conical Palm Hat

I became fixated with ladies who were wearing the conical palm hat as they went about their daily tasks and snapped away quite a few times. Each photo has a woman wearing the hat I admired.  I so wanted to speak with each one of them and perhaps listen to their stories. I wanted to know so much about them, but the only contact I was awarded was the ability to catch a glimpse of them in that moment of our time together. You may have seen some of these women throughout the blogs, but perhaps look again.

 

Asian Wonders # 16: Hong Kong

Asian Wonders #16: Hong Kong and HOME!

Masks of  Fantastic Creatures on loan from The British Museum have messages for us.

May you be healed: May you be free of the evil spirits: May you live a long life free of fear:  It’s cold here in Hong Kong and everyone has a cold, a cough and snot is everywhere. Gosh, for a germaphobic  like me this is a difficult environment.  The spitting still goes on here in the streets of this bustling New York like city, but a lot less now than when we visited in 1999.  As in most cities in China, spitting is a big “no no” and motorbikes are absolutely not allowed in the city centers. If you grew up spitting in the streets I guess it is hard to change, but if you drive a motorbike in the city there is a huge fine. We saw a motorbike crash head to tail in front of our hotel. We are in a lovely hotel, The Kowloon Hotel, right across a little street and slightly in back of the Peninsula Hotel.  We are on the Lounge Club floor with a view of Victoria Harbor, including breakfast, tea, and cocktails. They had a little anniversary party for us because when I made the reservations I told them we were celebrating our 50th. How sweet of them to remember.

Meet Joey Lee the Harbor Club Purser at the Kowloon Hotel. She will greet you and help you with everything and besides she is the nicest person. She is interested in everything.

We thought we would go for tea at the Peninsula, but the lines for tea were extensive. Instead we just gawked and enjoyed seeing such a famous old landmark.  We happily crossed the street to our lovely digs and enjoyed free tea in the Harbor Lounge.

Nighttime walking on Kowloon streets:

My new very favorite food is Glutinous Rice in a Lotus Leaf! It is very delicious. It is thick, dense and feels rich and full-bodied in your mouth. It makes you keep going back for more.   They have a Laser light show in Victoria Harbor every night at 8:00. The first night we ran with the crowd. We had to hurry along with everyone. We dashed down many, steps. Walked a little only to have to grind a climb up the steps on the other side.  We had to go under the street to cross safely.  We got to the viewing site in plenty of time.

I do not know anything about the Chinese people from this visit. I only know the sweet pleasant smiles of the service people and the beautiful, fashionably dressed people walking by.  Some of the sellers at the maretplaces want your money so badly, they hawk gruffly in your face. They negotiate in loud, clipped tones and when you have made a deal the literally grab the money, shove your item in a bag and turn their back on you.  We had an opportunity to speak for a little while with a couple from India.  He said he wondered if you ever know if you have received the best price. I told him, he will never know and none of us will.  The price you are willing to pay and the price you settle upon is the best price.  The three market places we visited and each worse than the other are: The Lady Street Market, The Stanley Market, on the way back from Victoria Peak and the Temple Street Night market.

We took the cable car up to Victoria Peak to get a shot of the view from that height. It was so foggy, and you see what we saw. Not worth the struggle. .

We rode a small sampan out into the Aberdeen a fishing neighborhood of Hong Kong.  It is where people live on their boats and you can negotiate a sampan ride from one of the ladies who run the boats out to see the sights in this area.They have preserved this area as a tourist site primarily now, but it was/is an active water village for hundreds of years.

Still in Aberdeen: The first photo is of the famous Jumbo Floating Restaurant and the second one is the back of the restaurant: See what you can see floating around.

We were told that the Chinese are not good at inventing, but can copy anything known to man. They can, indeed. I think the reason they are so far ahead of where they used to be is that they can copy and we buy. They have gone to many other countries and taken the best they have to offer and manufactured it as Made in China, which it is….  How ingenious is that?  We, at least I have been taught to create something wholly your own and in the creating that is the genius.  Well, I have seen a new light. Copy if you can and add your own genius to it. This is very financially beneficial.  I have always been fascinated by the Chinese culture and should have studied more before we made the trip, and you can be certain a study will be made and we will gladly know so much more.

Hong Kong is totally separate from China, the mainland, but many Chinese have one foot in Hong Kong for investment purposes and it has served most of them well.  They are building a new high-speed train. The train service now connecting Hong Kong with Beijing is a 28-hour train ride. The new mass construction of the new train will cut the travel time down to 8 hours. The construction sites are everywhere.

We have enjoyed the bustling streets full of people on the go. You can truly shop until you drop and you can buy anything you want, you just have to know where to go to get it.

We rode on top of an open-air bus through the city streets at night. It was an interesting new perspective and very cold.  It was almost impossible to get a good nighttime photo because of their glaring yellow streetlights, so sit back and just enjoy the hubbub.

Our last stop was the tallest building in Hong Kong called Sky 100 because you view Hong Kong at a 360-degree experience on the 100th floor. The view from the 100th floor is knowing you are very high!

Today we visited the 1881 Springtime Wonderland at the Grand Piazza and the Museum of Art.  The best gallery is the one containing old pictures and prints of Hong Kong. It is hard to believe that this spectacular city is built on what once was mountainous terrain and jungle. Actually, forgive me, but Hong Kong is still a jungle of an altered kind.  I have noticed that the jungle animals here nowadays who are in a hurry and do not mind knocking into you, and shoving you along to wherever they are going. They have no spacial boundaries. Mine are huge! Never mind, I forgot to mention seeing antiquities at the museum from the Tang Dynasty, The Sun Dynasty and The Qing.  I know there were more dynasties represented but the three mentioned are all that I can remember. For an experience and general knowledge, Google Chinese Dynasties and enjoy reading about how the various dynasties played their roles in Chinese history.   We have enjoyed our Asian Wonders trip and have enjoyed having you along. We have been blessed and are happy and lucky!  Happy and Lucky are attributes the Asian people hold to be very special and important. Do you not agree?

Asian Wonders # 14: The Art of Bonsai, Penjing or Hon Non Bo

The art of Bonsai is planting in a tray (bon) low-sided pot and sai, is the planting. This is traditionally a Japanese art form.  But similar plantings exist as I have seen in China called Penjing, from which they say the art form originated.  There are also miniature living landscapes of the Vietnamese call Hon Non Bo, with accents appropriated designated for certain letters, but not available on this computer. So, since this is a collection from Thailand, Vietnam and China, can you tell which is which?  I have no idea, but I am pleased with the collection. The purpose of these beautiful plantings is contemplation for the viewer and certainly creativity and a great deal of continued effort for the grower.

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Asian Wonders #13 Old Canton/ Guangzhou in Guangdong Provence from the Huangpu Port

Meaningful dragon # six of nine:

First and foremost, I would like to thank a VERY special company for allowing us 6 days of private in depth touring of our ports and surrounding cities.  The company I highly recommend is China Odyssey Tours at:

www.ChinaOdysseyTours.com and ask for Yeliz because she is a very special agent!  We were happy with each and every tour guide, hotel and driver. We learned first hand about our specified tour for the day and shared experiences with the people living in our city stops.   THANK YOU you for all of our stress free learning and sharing experiences.

Today we had a bit of culture shock. There we were in the heart of Vietnam yesterday, a, developing, country, not there yet and will wait many, many years to get anything much done, into a country developed and straining to develop even more.  The city is full, chocked full of beautiful skyscrapers which are office buildings. Apartment buildings, a lovely beautifully designed Opera house and across from that a huge gorgeous stadium.  It goes on and on…our guide told us that China develops a little each year, a moderate amount every three years and a lot every five years.  Good job, China.

We visited Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, which is a Chinese style building and was sponsored by Chinese government to commemorate Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the great forerunner of the Chinese revolution.  The hall once had 4,000 seats and when it was rebuilt because of fire, they only put in 3,000 seats.  When asked why there are fewer seats, the comment was made that the Chinese were getting too fat, so they cut the seats so they would lose weight. Good answer, but probably due to new architectural plans. The sound used to have an echo but now they have fixed the sound enjoying concerts and large venues there in the hall.

Plaque in Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s calligraphy in which he states:

“The world belongs to the public”

Many Chinese people envy the self-confidence they think the American’s possess. They feel that what they are doing is always not quit good enough and envy being able to feel that one is doing well. I did not know the way I always felt was a Chinese way of thinking. It took a long time to think of myself as doing well, but I am there more often than just once in a while.  When you travel you really do not get into the minds set of the people and their way of living. You barely scratch the surface and besides, it changes from district to district as it does everywhere from place to place. You can’t know and understand what the people you are visiting are all about and truly understand because their ways of thinking are so complex.  Maybe and hopefully you slice a sliver off to take home and cherish. What you do learn when traveling is a lot about yourself. Now that is the truth!!

Your bathroom awaits madam. You know, you stand spread eagle and squat. There is nothing to it.  BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper) and put it into the basket along side the squatter.

The government in China does govern.  We were told that if you want to have a baby you do have to petition for permission, especially if you have moved from your place of birth    (to insure the child wil have a place in school)or maybe it is for everyone wanting to have a baby. The rule still holds that you can only have one.  But if you and your husband are only children, you can have two. Here is a photo taken with the lucky mother’s permission. She is allowed to have two or three or as many as come, but only within the parameters of the one pregnancy.

Our next stop was The Chen Family Temple and also known as Guangdong Folk Art Museum. It used to be the study house of the Chen Family in the 1890’s and also happens to be beautifully decorated ancient architecture.

We also enjoyed he demonstrations of folk art being made on the premises.

Two gentlemen dressed in ancient clothing posing at the Folk Art Museum.

Paper cutting, beautiful!

Some carved ivory caught our eye!

The carved balls are a piece to insure future generations. I bought one for our family, but not out of ivory, out of sandalwood. Have you ever had the sensual pleasure of smelling freshly carved sandalwood?  It is hypnotic. I put the balls in my jacket pocket and by the end of the afternoon, I was in a mellow, comfortable state of mind. I think I am a little allergic to long-term association with freshly carved sandalwood because my nose got stuffy and started to run. After distancing from the smell the nose cleared up. Still, the smell is just a great treat.

Ivory Generation balls:

Time to say good-bye to Canton and get ready to make our way to Hong Kong and the end of our journey.  Don’t stop reading. I have several more Travelblogs coming your way.

Asian Wonders # 12: Chinese cures for EVERYTHING

Meaningful dragon # five of nine

GOOD HEALTH TO YOU!

You do know that there is a cure for every ailment on earth, supposedly provided in natures grand form.  Your only chore is to find out which one works and how to prepare it. Here are some materials for remedies provided here.

Asian Wonders # 9: Mekong Delta and sights along The Mekong River AKA “Song Cuu Long” the River of Nine Dragons.

Of the nine dragons, this is the only one we saw, but hopefully I will collect all of nine:

We started very early this morning for a drive to the city of Cai Be and visited a lovely multi-denominational temple/church. (Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Christianity, and Muslim.  Somehow the mixing of faiths gives this temple a special glow.

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I briefly encountered these three women in the city of Cai Be. I was fascinated with their traditional cone hats and their beauty.

Point of interest: As we drove through the Mekong Delta area on our way to the river, we happened upon a resort located in the middle of the Delta region called, “Happy Land” funded and built by Michael Jackson’s father, Joe.

The heart of the day was spent cruising along in our own private Sampan on The Mekong River among the local sampans coming from all provinces to a floating market with fruits and vegetables from all over the delta region. Included are some of my favorite scenes from the river and some people we briefly met in the region.

As we floated along witnessing the sights and sounds of Mekong rural life and Mekong River sights, we stopped to observe rice paper making, coconut candy making and popped rice products. We taste tested everything. We continued on to view traditional brick and tile factors and saw how locals are using palm leaves for houses.

A lovely luncheon awaited us at a special Indochinese restaurant. Sorry, in the photo, I cut off the fin of our Elephant Ear Fish, which was plucked and wrapped with fresh greens and condiments into a rice paper roll.

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