Guest Post By Shmuel Silberman
When I first had a desire to go to Uman, I didn’t see how I could overcome the obstacles to get there. After my first trip, new obstacles developed in the following years. If there’s one thing I learned about planning a trip to Uman it’s the importance of letting Hashem into one’s plans. Practically that means prayer. Pray to obtain the necessary funds, that no person or circumstance will interfere with plans, and to arrive and return comfortably and safely. Pray to achieve spiritual goals in Uman. Repeat: a trip to Uman is in Hashem’s hands.
However, putting ourselves in Hashem’s hands does not mean we should plan poorly. I’ve met people who planned minimally and had a satisfying trip, but why take unnecessary risks? Having been to Uman eight times, I’ve learned some tips to get the most out of this spiritual adventure.
Going to Uman costs money. It’s never too early to begin raising funds. Save your money, and if you don’t have money to save, tell people you will pray at the Rebbe’s kever and say a personal Tikkun HaKlali for whoever supports your trip. You may be surprised at how many people are willing to participate.
The earlier one purchases an airline ticket the better. This year I discovered that the cheapest tickets are available ten months in advance, and I took advantage. I look for the best price, but not without checking flight details. If there is a stopover, is it in a country in which I feel comfortable? I have landed in Turkey, but wouldn’t want to do so in Qatar (I met someone who did the latter). Check if there is enough time, but not too much time, to transfer to the connecting flight. Because of my employment it’s crucial that my flight departs and arrives when I need.
Don’t forget to order a kosher meal for your flight. I once forgot to do this and endured the consequences.
While traveling it pays to warm up by reading Breslov literature. These teachings inspire me while in Uman and I continue to read the books there. Small print versions make it easier for me to carry books around.
I prefer to arrive in Uman at least one evening before Shabbos or Yom Tov. I feel more settled if I have a chance to unpack, sleep, get to know the neighborhood, and daven at the Rebbe’s kever beforehand. To enjoy this advantage I must consider that from when the plane lands in Kiev I need at least six hours to claim luggage, find a shuttle van and ride to Uman. Therefore I always purchase a flight that lands in Kiev at least 26 hours before Shabbos or Yom Tov.
Once in Uman it helps to engage in spiritual tasks early. As soon as I am ready, I go to the Rebbe’s kever, give tzedaka, and recite tikun haklali. I daven for myself and others on my list. I recite vidui in the Rebbe’s presence. For vidui I find it helpful to use Sefer Hamitzvos Hakatzar by the Chafetz Chaim which lists the mitzvos applicable today. That way I know for what to say vidui. The sooner I begin obligations the greater my peace of mind.
Seeing tens of thousands of Jews in one place is an unforgettable experience. Inevitably some people look, sound, and act differently than myself. Individuals (and their loud music) are sometimes unappealing. On my first Uman trip I decided that the quality of my experience depends on letting go of feeling judgmental. One cannot judge another’s soul, each of which has its own journey. We must give others the benefit of the doubt, especially if they make the effort to come to Uman.
My Uman experience has been immeasurably enhanced by attending the programs of Breslov Research Institute. It’s my home away from home. Hearing leading English-speaking Breslov rabbis helps me to understand why I am in Uman and gives me memories I would not have otherwise. There I also socially connect with fellow travelers, some of whom I see year after year. Some of my davening takes place there too. (BRI’s schedule of programs is posted at their Uman center and online)
Tashlich is an example where finding alternative methods are sometimes preferable. I was walking with my son back from tashlich at the river. We were on a pathway too narrow to accommodate the masses. It was very uncomfortable and I feared for my son’s safety. I later discovered that I can ascend to the upper level of the main kloiz from where I see the river. I now recite tashlich there and look forward to the experience.
I was once late for my return flight and it’s not an experience I would recommend. Instead I had to make a connecting flight in Baku (Azerbaijan), a city I had never heard of. This all happened because I travelled with friends to Rav Nosson’s kever in Breslov. It is common, though not necessary, to make additional trips to Breslov, Medziboz, or Berdichov before returning to the Kiev airport. They’re wonderful, but make sure you have enough time to get to the airport promptly.
I will not bore you with a complete packing list, but here are items that I distinctly recommend:
- Passport holder- I wear a passport holder around my neck while traveling. It’s good for my peace of mind.
- Eye covers- Makes it easier to sleep on the plane or elsewhere.
- Earplugs- Some Jews show their Uman excitement vocally. If this disturbs your sleep, earplugs can help.
- Baby Wipes- It’s like a personal supply of toilet paper and can be used to wipe muddy shoes
- Not-fancy pants and shoes- Roads are muddy in Uman; so are my pants and shoes
- Neiros with matches- Men sometimes forget this mitzvah on erev Shabbos/Yom Tov. Roommates will thank you for bringing these.
- Labels- label your luggage with name and contact information. Ditto for tefilin.
- Slichot volume- Once a Jew in Uman took digital pictures of my Slichot pages so he could daven too. Bring your own instead.
I wish the reader a joyous and successful trip to Uman. Hopefully these words of advice will enhance your experience.