A Spiritual Journey for Women: The Pilgrimage to Uman Isn’t Just for Men Anymore
Women from all over the world will travel to Ukraine to pray at the grave of Hasidic leader Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Aside from teaching on the trips, Golshevsky guides the women through unique Breslov rituals. She wakes them up for prayer at chatzot halayla, the night’s midpoint, “a magical, sweet, and powerful time,” she said, to dance, to sing, and to cry. Golshevsky also stresses the importance of a verbal confession in Uman. She tells groups to take time to sit down for an out-loud acknowledgement of their wrongdoings, their flaws, their weaknesses, and then pray for the strength to mend themselves.
Women are encouraged to say the “Tikkun Klali”—a compilation by Rebbe Nachman of 10 specific psalms—and give charity. The result: Women say they feel cleansed, aware, and ready to pray for whatever it is they came for.
Shaena Cantor, a 33-year-old New Jersey native, said she traveled to Uman earlier this year to pray to get married, but had zero expectations. “I don’t necessarily feel connected to sitting around saying tehillim all day. But the environment is an alternate universe, in another time and place,” she said. “Our group had pure authenticity, open honesty, and prayer. I found myself dancing and singing randomly. Then, suddenly and unexplainably, crying.”
Cantor said her experience facilitated a unique connection and inspiration she has tried to apply since taking the trip. “A woman shouldn’t go there thinking she will find miracles, one needs to be very careful where they put their hopes. I think the task is implementing what you’ve found inside yourself into your daily life, and hope your merit gives you what you’re missing,” Cantor noted.
“I don’t say women will always get what they pray for,” added Golshevsky. “But they will come back completely altered. They will be able to accomplish things they couldn’t imagine. That, I guarantee. Miracles I don’t.”
But even without a guarantee, some of the women who voyage to Uman do believe that miraculous things have happened to them. Batash recalled meeting an Israeli woman in the airport during her first trip, who said she had flown to Uman the previous year to pray for children. She had baked challah in the hotel kitchen and said the blessing of the dough at the tomb, a traditional segulah or ritual, for women. One year later, Batash said, the same woman returned to Uman, with her baby, to pray for others.
Inga Menashem, 30, from Queens, grew up traditional but decided to travel to Uman three years ago after a breakup. She said the trip gave her the clarity she needed to recover from the heartbreak, and she spent the next year intensely reading books on Breslov philosophy. She returned the following year to pray to meet “the one.” “Hearing about Rebbe Nachman’s promise is what pushed me to go,” Menashem told me. “I prayed for the belief in finding a husband and to overcome the fear in my life. The trip helped me find the comfort to believe it would happen. A month later I met my husband! I made sure to return to Uman before my bridal shower to give my thanks.”
“Do you believe in miracles?” That’s the question Erin Fine, a 33-year-old New Yorker, asked when I met her for coffee in Cobble Hill. Several doctors have confirmed that her fertility issues will not allow her to have children. She has already spent her savings on treatments and said she is just about ready to give up.
Although Fine identifies as “not religious” and “not a believer,” her cousin in Sfat persuaded her to join her on a journey to Uman this Rosh Chodesh Kislev. Fine said she felt the timing was appropriate, since lighting the Hanukkah menorah is one of the few Jewish traditions she keeps. The two are hiring a private driver, who will take them to Rebbe Nachman’s grave and a few other historically Jewish sites in Eastern Europe the first week in November. As skeptical as she is, Fine admitted the stories she’s heard of women’s’ journeys to Uman have given her an inkling of hope.
“It’s not that I don’t want to believe, it’s just that I don’t,” Fine said firmly. “I’ve seen it all, done it all, so at this point I have nothing to lose. And anyway, who really knows what might happen? I’ve been told to approach this journey with an open heart, which is all I have to offer.”
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