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Justin Lewis, Jane Enkin and Rabbi Green in Shaarey Zedek's Succah during Opening Program of Nachmanifest
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Ariel Neshamah Lee conducted a meditation session
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Ruth and Daniel Ashrafi tell stories during the program
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

The "OHEL" built around the Ba'al Shem Tov's tomb in Medzhibozh , Uman, Ukraine
Photo by Justin Lewis


by Rhonda Spivak, September 28, 2010

Over 50 people crowded into Shaarey Zedek Synagogue’s sukkah on Saturday September 25, 2010 for the first in a series of programs that are part of the first ever Nachmanifest, which  celebrates the  life and teachings of  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, on the year of his 200th yarzheit.

Rebbe Nachman, who was born in the Ukrainian town of Medzeboz in 1772, was the founder of the Breslov Hasidic Movement, a branch of the ultra Orthodox Jewish movement founded by his great grandfather the Ba'al Shem Tov. A controversial spiritual leader, Rebbe Nachman devoted himself to practical guidance for those struggling with depression, as he himself did.  He was a teacher, healer and storyteller who like other Hasidic rabbis, emphasized joyfulness, mysticism, closeness to G-d and communion with nature.  He taught about the aliveness and sanctity of all growing things.

Dr. Justin Lewis, the Co-ordinator of Judaic Studies at University of Manitoba, who has been inspired by Rabbi Nachman told one of Rabbi Nachman’s stories rich with archetypal images to the hushed crowd in the sukkah.  After the engaging story, Lewis’s wife Jane Enkin began singing a “niggin” (words consisted of “dy, dy, dy”) which was followed by Seudah shlishit (the third festive meal of the Sabbath).

Willow Aster told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, that she and Alon Weinberg thought of the idea of Nachmanifest after taking a coursed about him taught by Dr. Lewis. “When we realized it was his 200th yarzheit, we thought this would be a good program,” she said.

Rebbe Nachman and his disciples created haunting melodies which continue to uplift and inspire. His dreamlike stories are recognized as among the early classics of modern Yiddish literature and are treasured by spiritual seekers today. Rebbe Nachman enjoyed huge following among Hasidic groups from the Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Poland.

When Nachman died in 1810 of tuberculosis at the age of 39, his followers began making annual pilgrimages to his gravesite in Uman, in the Ukraine to hear and be inspired by his stories.  These pilgrimages all but ceased as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Stalinist purges and the Nazi Holocaust, but resumed openly in 1989 after the fall of communism.

Dr. Lewis and his son participated in an unforgettable pilgrimage to Uman during Rosh Hashanah in 2007. Although he is not an ultra-orthodox Hasid, Lewis says he is inspired by Rebee’s teachings and melodies. This year, 35,000 Hasidim, most of them from Israel, spent Rosh Hashanah at Rebbe  Nachman’s gravesite.

At the event at Shaarey Zedek, Lewis spoke of the notion that the third meal of the Sabbath and Mincha are time “when male and female energy comes together.” He noted that while on Friday evening and Saturday lunch it is customary to have two challahs, Jews have one challah at Mincha “to symbolize the union of female and male energies.” “We want to hang on to this time of oneness,” Lewis said.

After the meal, Ariel Neshama Lee, a lay leader at Temple Shalom, led a deep meditation around the “teaching of Rebbe Nachman, who “envisioned the human face as a menorah.” In this meditation, each of the seven openings of the face (eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth) “invite light”, which radiates throughout the whole body. Participants were to envision light from the menorah’s seven candles flowing into these openings of the human face and each flame is “a symbol of hope and healing.”

Lee said that she learned meditations from Rabbi Neal and Carol Rose, who will be participating in a Nachmanifest program in October.

Lee concluded the meditation by saying that participants should see themselves as “a candle of G-d bringing light into the world wherever you go.”

After the meditation, Enkin led the group in more songs, including one with words “we are climbing Jacob’s ladder, brothers, sisters, all.”

Lewis told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that participants of the evening included “a group of Christian women who are interested in learning more of Jewish scripture.”

Following the meditation, the group returned to the sukkah for havdalah and the lighting of a yarzheit candle for Rebbe Nachman, with Rabbi Alan Green and Cantor Anibal Mass. Mass spoke of the importance of Faith in G-d. Desserts were passed around as Enkin lead more singing.

Ruth and Daniel Ashrafi shared more stories inside.

Lewis said he hoped that “the festival will grow” and that it will happen again next year.
Meanwhile, early Sunday September 26, hours after the  Nachmanifest program at Shaarey Zedek, Shmuel Tobol, a 19-year old member of the Bratslav Hasidic sect was stabbed during a fight with local Ukrainians, during his pilgrimage to  Uman. His brother was also lightly injured during the fight.

According to reports on the incident in Haredi newspapers, several Ukrainian youth arrived at the Tobol's house and began throwing rocks at the family's car. Shmuel and his brother went down to confront the rock throwers, which led to the subsequent fight during which Shmuel was knifed.

 If you wish to see photos of Lewis’s trip to Uman for Rosh Hashana in 2007 please click on:


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.