Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Longing To Return

I visited the kever of the Baal Shem Tov in Medzhebuz, Ukraine four years ago, but it wasn't until I returned home did I realize that I had missed visiting a major site located in another part of the town; the Baal Shem Tov's Beis Medrash!

In October, Rabbi Aryeh Wohl sent me an article he wrote for Olam HaChassidus magazine that mentioned that when the Degel Machaneh Ephraim left my family's shtetl during the last year of his life, he settled in Medzhebuz and davened in this beis medrash. Four years ago, I must have been a only few steps away from this place where the Baal Shem Tov and Degel Machaneh Ephraim davened, and yet I missed it!

Reading 'laizer's narrative on Wilderness City and Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer's new book Against All Odds have heightened my feelings of regret for not visiting the beis medrash in Medzhebuz and Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's kever in Uman. I also long to visit my family's shtetl for a second time and visit some places that I did not get a chance to see, such as Berditchev, Breslov, Rovno, and Ostrog.

Deep in my neshoma I know that I need to return to Ukraine once again. On his journey to Eretz Israel in 1798, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, "I cannot tell you the reason for my journey, for my heart has not even revealed it to my mouth." I can sense that there is still a missing piece remaining to be uncovered in the land of my ancestors; a piece that will help me discover who I am and why I am here.


At December 6, 2005 at 6:53:00 AM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

ASJ - It is amazing how close you were. I guess you were meant to go back again to find the missing piece. I am very excited for you for the discoveries you will make. Do you think one more time will be enough? I am also hoping to make a trip to Belarus and the Ukraine this year to visit kivrei tzadikim and research more of my family history...

At December 6, 2005 at 6:59:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

MCAryeh: Yeah - I will have to find out from 'laizer exactly how close it was.

I am not sure if one more time will be enough. But I know 100% that I need to go at least one more time. During my last visit I davened to find the reason why I had my the trip and it wasn't until the last day did I do so.

I am quite envious of your trip to Belarus this year. It should be a fantastic trip ...one that will change your life.

At December 6, 2005 at 2:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait to back again either!

In case you are interested, there is a book with pictures and Hebrew text about the restoration Baal Shem Tov's shul:

At December 6, 2005 at 2:16:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks Chabakuk Elisha. The book looks very interesting.

Have you been to this place in Medzhebuz?

At December 6, 2005 at 2:21:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in Medzebuz around 1990-91, and it looked very different than it does today. The shul was not accessible at that time, and there was no building around the Kever, etc.
My father was there with my oldest son a year ago, and from what I heard (and pictures I've seen) it is quite a place today!

At December 6, 2005 at 2:39:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

How far from the kever is the shul?

I have the Moznaim book "Graves of Tzaddikim in Russia" which has many pictures of what that kevarim in Medzhebuz used to look like. I was amazed at the new structures during my visit like the one I linked to in my posting and also this one:


At December 6, 2005 at 2:41:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

Hey Simple,

Isn't your icon pic of the Baal Shem's Beis Medrash? How could you not have visited there?

In any case, living in Israel would put you much closer to the Ukraine, meaning that you could make the trip several times...Think about that! :))

[that's a "double-chin" if you haven't noticed!] :))

At December 6, 2005 at 2:59:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't remember the distance, I'll ask my son iy"h.
The guest hose pictured at the link you posted is where my father & son stayed while in Medzibuz for Shabbos selichos.
The constant improvements on the matzevois, etc, is incredible. I have been to Uman 4 or 5 times, and the Tzion has been completely different each time.

At December 6, 2005 at 3:02:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: Yes my icon is the beis medrash...which makes it all the more frustrating!

Ukraine is closer to Israel...really?? ;))

Chabakuk Elisha: What was the biggest difference in Uman between the first time you went and the last time you went?

At December 6, 2005 at 4:42:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is new building and physical improvements every year. For someone like me, who only goes every few years, the differences are significant.
During my first trip, the Tzion was stenciled tiles, about 8 feet long and 4 feet wide or so, behind a small yellow house and surrunded by a yard.
Now, I haven't been there for a while, but they have built up every year, tearing down the house, building a shul, an area for Kohanim and more. When I compare photos from various trips it seems that there is more activity there than here in New York.

At December 7, 2005 at 10:32:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

As a non-Breslover, what did you get out of the experience of going to the Tzion?

At December 7, 2005 at 11:49:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will say that the Rosh Hashana experience was quite incredible. Davening with thousands of people, with the focus of Yomim Noraim, and the united spiritual motivation was so inspiring - I don't think there is anything like it. people from all walks of life all sitting together - I haven't been there for a few years now, but last time, on my bench there were:
Israeli Chabadnik
Monroe Satmarer
American with long hair and a nit yarmulka
A clean-cut Yeshivish looking fellow
A couple Chassidishe looking Israelis
My father & myself (and 5 year old son).
They all smiled sincerely to each other, wished each other well, sang together, and danced together. I have never experienced such achdus before or since. The davening is very powerful, and when saying "Hamelech" it really feels like you are at the crowning of the King (this was true even with the smaller crowds).

Things have surely changed in the past 5/6 years since I was there, and each with time I've been there, the amount of people had grown immeasurably. My first trip, was a small group, the next time had maybe couple hundred, and it has continued to grow to the tens of thousands that make the trip today.

I think that, although I'm not a Breslover, just by leaving my home and neighborhood, traveling overseas to a country that is completely foreign, to a land saturated with Jewish history, standing at grave-sites of people I identify with as a part of the Chassidic heritage & legacy that I feel myself a part of, all with a completely spiritual purpose - not to mention the usual awe that comes with Rosh Hashana - made my Yiddishkeit seem so real and natural, unlike the usual feeling of struggle between the physical & spiritual realities of daily life.

At December 7, 2005 at 12:13:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thank you for your vivid description of your experience. Your last comments leads to me ask, Do you think a chassid can truly understand Chassidus without visiting the birthplace of Chassidus?

At December 7, 2005 at 12:37:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It can't hurt!

I think that understanding Chassidus can be done by anyone, anywhere, with the right teachers. However, one should connect to a Rebbe, and that is essential to understanding and appreciation of Chassidus. I would say that if one is a chossid of a Rebbe who is no longer living, and is buried elsewhere, that person aught to go to his Rebbe's kever, for this is an element of connection.
In general, visiting the birthplace of Chassidus does help it become more real; but I would say that is mostly an emotional strengthening of one's connection to chassidus - which surely helps, but I don't think it's a prerequisite.


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