I was born in Minsk in the USSR. My earliest memory of knowing that I'm a Yid (at age 5) was when I was playing outside my house. Somehow a big boy started to pick on me calling me a “zhid” and pushing me down to the ground. I came crying to my mother.
I said: “Mother, a boy pushed me. He called me a zhid, I don't want to be a zhid.” She told me: “That's what we are, we are Jews.” It hurts to be a Jew, I thought.
My parents applied for an exit-visa before I was born in 1972. In 1979 we emigrated to America, the land where the streets are paved with gold, right? I don't know why they sent us to a small town, but that's where I grew up. When I was 13 my father passed away from lung cancer.
I started to think about Death a lot. When I was 17 my mother remarried and moved to Chicago. I stayed to finish my senior year of High school. That year I tasted a type of freedom I had never had before. I discovered marijuana and meditation. I remember I used to read every book I could get a hold of about meditation or any type of spirituality. My goal was to Astral Project – I wanted to leave my body and explore “space”. I remember reaching places of deep calm, feeling at one with the universe and myself. Marijuana also helped me to explore. I knew that this reality that we see with our eyes is not the only or true existence. There had to be something more! Yoga, Shamanism and specifically meditation became my escape paths. I pictured myself just sitting and meditating like the Buddha and eventually reaching enlightenment.
After I graduated High school I was forced out of my spiritual Trip, and back to 'reality'. I moved in with my mother and stepfather to the big city Chicago. At first I just got a job like everybody else and attempted to go to community college. I was never a very confident student or person for that matter and quit after 6 months. I finally did succeed in connecting with some very 'cool' people, Dead Heads. The counter culture, way after the 60's came and went The Grateful Dead were still rocking. My first L.S.D trip was with a friend in his parent’s basement. I remember looking in the mirror watching my beard grow. I became ancient, more experienced. All I really wanted was the spiritual experience. The real trip. What does it all mean? What is the significance of my life? Why do I exist? My friends introduced me to a new reality that I was yearning for. Because, I was by then and for a long time fed up with the old one. Eating magic mushrooms in the forest. Seeing with my own eyes how everything is breathing, alive. The life glow of the trees and grass. Life, I saw life! By the time I was 22 I was ready to get out. The visions and ideas of what the world could be, as opposed to the normal 'job-television-sex-commercial-strait'-reality was beginning to take its tell on me. How could I go from silence, peace, love, nature, serenity to – television, work, and fast food - the opposite of spirituality. I just didn't fit!
That year I came in to some money. I decided I'm going traveling. I went west to see the 'Dead' in Eugene Oregon. Then we traveled to Nevada for the Vegas shows. On the way we stopped for the night in an Indian Reservation called Pyramid Lake. I had mescaline which I never tried before. 20 minutes later the whole world changed on me. Everything was electric red spliced with blue and gold everywhere. I must climb that peak. When I turned around I saw it, my first vision. They were like 4 beings attached together, divided in 4 parts. The 3 lower parts had the appearance of animal creatures. The top were faces of men. I also remember they had some kind of braids on the sides. I had seen my first vision (only later in Yeshiva did I read Ezekiel’s vision).
That summer was the turning point in my life. We finally made it to Sedona Arizona. I was being led and I knew it, so I went with the flow! The way Sedona works is – there's 4 'vortexes' or energy spots. At the first one I took a hit of L.S.D and started looking for my spot. I found it. I felt totally free. The whole universe was conspiring to get me to that place. What was I looking for? This place was 'powerful' but what did it mean for me? I was so open to anything. I'll say yes to anything, just bring me to the truth, this is what I felt. The truth was coming.. He was a big older man, maybe in his early 60's. I remember that there was something very wise about him, almost mystical. We spoke for a while, he was very down to earth. He told me that I need to find a place where one can learn about spirituality. He told me about 2 books. The next day I found one of them. New Age Kabbalah, Brother Hood of The Light, Hebrew Letters, Atlantis.
Really weird stuff, but it got me thinking Kabbalah. There were 2 other vortexes, and the 4th vortex was called Goddess. I ate the last remains of my mushroom powder (a tiny amount). I beat on my Drum, all the sudden there were red snakes all around me, then they were on me, riding on my skin, in my blood, and all over me. I felt myself dying my life, force being sucked out of me. So I started to beat on my Shaman's Drum, then I got up and headed towards the Statuesque Rock Formation. In front of me was a huge deep valley like a natural Football Stadium, and I was on stage. I started to hit the Drum. I looked at my Drum, it was swirling with energy colors and lights. At that moment I realized that there were legions upon legions of Angels (or maybe Demons) all around me. They were coming for me, I was very afraid so I fought them with music, just will and determination to live, then it was over. I then heard a song, like an energy emanating from the earth. The song was in a female voice singing to me, comforting me. I was to die, but instead I would be given a chance, a chance to be healed, and to heal. I was given a chance to be a Healer of the earth. Then I knew that I had a mission in this world!
After all this I didn't know where to go, so, California made perfect flow. I finally made it to San Francisco, the Historical Hippy Travel Sight. Everywhere we went, I carried around this book with G-ds name on the cover -- I was obsessed with it. Providence had it that the Jerry Garcia Band was in town and tickets were no problem. After the show I noticed this slightly religious type of guy spinning around wearing a Kippah, so I came up to him. The first thing that came to me: "Do you know anything about Kabbalah?" "Sure, what do you wanna know?" he said, "I know lots about Kabbalah, why don't you come to my house for Shabbas, and I'll tell you everything you wanna know." So I went to his crash pad. I spent 3 days talking to him, telling him about my visions and trips. He turned out to be a Shlomo Carlebach Chasid.We connected in a big way and he very much inspired in me thoughts of repentance, the land of Israel, and the path of the Bal Shem Tov.
My summer of freedom and visions came to an abrupt end. I had to go back to Chicago. I had no choice but to return, and was not yet ready for the next step of my journey.
As soon as I got back I 'fell' very hard down. I experienced 3 separate panic attacks. The first one sent me to the Hospital. I thought I was dying, I was so shook up. So much light I experienced that summer. Maybe I was bursting from too much light or maybe the Other Side was competing for my soul. Whatever it was the transition and process was very painful. Seeing glimpses of something, then to go back to the lies and physicality of the world, I wasn't able to bridge the gap. The third panic attack occurred while on my way to work. I was standing in a book store, all of a sudden, like electricity my whole nervous system seemed to have popped, short circuit, the wiring blew! I felt as if my soul left me. I spent 6 months walking around like the dead, alive on the outside, but I couldn't feel anything. I couldn't feel my body. I floated like this for 6 months. I was in Hell! At this point I knew it was the end for me. The end of normal American life. I had to flee or I would die there. What choice did I have? I never felt like I had a choice. This place was killing me! My only hope was the land of Israel.
I would return to the land of my people. My heritage was to be a Jew, only in Israel. I arrived in 1995 one week before Rosh Hashanah. My friend that I met in San Francisco, the "Shlomo Spinner" took me in. I found myself in the heart of the world, Jerusalem – the heart of Israel. I was introduced to a new world. Everything was a "Gevalt". I was ready to be reborn, a complete and total change. I had nothing to lose. Slowly I started my healing process. For the first time in my life I had absolutely no real home, no mother or father to take care of me, no escape into misery. I was in Jerusalem ready to take on a life of complete spirituality.
Three weeks after Rosh Hashanah my friend handed me a copy of Tikkun Ha Klali, the complete remedy, in English. The Truth, this is it! Rabbi Nachman, he is the one! I had never heard his name before. Rabbi Nachman promised that if you recite 10 specific psalms and give a small coin to charity by his grave in Uman (Ukraine) on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, he will travel the length of the universe and go down to the lowest depth of hell to pick one out of hell by his Peyos (side curls). That's me, I thought, I'm in hell, I need so much healing and only Rabbeinu Nachman can help me! I knew instantly that everything I went through, years of deep depression, anger and guilt, was only to prepare me to accept the truth. A Jew must always sanctify himself. His eyes, his nose, his ears and his mouth must become holy. And this holiness can only be achieved with the help of the True Tzaddik.
It also blew my mind at the time how much Rabbeinu stressed the importance of meditation or Hitbodedut which was my main focus for years. To see it as the most important tool for Jewish healing was amazing to me. At this point my focus became connecting to the True Tzaddik – Rabbeinu Nachman, and I was constantly begging Hashem to please heal me! I was so new to everything, I felt like everyone knows so much about how to be a Jew, and I know next to nothing, so broken I felt. My mind was so full of garbage, I was like a trash heap of garbage that was long overdue a proper cleaning. I gotta go to Yeshiva and start learning. Friends I met along the way also encouraged me that Yeshiva is the only path for me right now. So, I spent the next three and a half years, mostly dumping garbage and trying as much as possible to go in the way of Rabbeinu.
The mikve or in my case the mayan which is a natural stream of purifying waters, became instrumental in my healing and renewal. Meditation, praying with the sunrise, dancing, being happy, the midnight lament – all of Rabbi Nachman's presents to me. But, I found out later that this is actual original Judaism we've always had. Rabbeinu, Rabbi Nachman just brought it back, Retro-Judaism!
I ran and returned like this for 3 and a half years taking on everything, suffering in pain, and yearning to be close to Hashem, the Torah and the true Tzaddik. The constant battles with the evil inclination (my evil inclination) was awe some, it can't be described on paper. I just knew that I was very far from Hashem, and from real purity, but my belief in Rabbeinu kept me going. His love and condolence and encouragement was a constant saving for me as if he himself was my mikve, my purification. My first trip to Uman was in 1996, Rosh Hashanah. I had no idea what I was getting into. Israel had warm weather at the time, so I hardly brought warmclothing. Uman was cold and rainy. I got very sick! I suffered so much, I couldn't wait to go back next year! By my 3rd Rosh Hashanah in a row, I was a Die Hard Breslover. One thing I noticed, in all the connections we see and know that everything is Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Intervention). They (the opposers to Breslov) called the Breslov Chasidim 'The Dead Chasidim', because they (we) used to follow a dead Rebbe (there was no successor the throne).
Having been a Grateful Dead Head, I had some insight into this. Rebbe Nachman said of himself that his main work was with the dead, that's one of the (many) reasons he wanted to be buried in Uman, the scene of the 30,000 plus slaughter of Jews in the previous generation. He also worked with many, many souls that needed a tikkun (fixing) they couldn't provide for themselves only with the help of the True Tzaddik being Rabbeinu himself. So, I thought a person can be alive and dead at the same time, and I myself am mostly dead, hence Dead Head. Rabbeinu saved me from death, he brings one into true life! So, now I made a full circle from Dead Head to 'Dead Chasid', Dead to the lies and physical desires of this world.
After my 3rd Rosh Hashanah in Uman, something started to stir in me. I realized there in Uman that there had been some kind of a new break through, but I didn't realize how it would manifest itself. The Rainbow Gathering (refers to some native American spirituality legendary folklore, which has become a post hippy alternative lifestyle, escape from modern drudgery western American capitalism, technological nightmare, in short let's get away for a while and live like the Indians used to, without money, and we'll have peace and harmony and be free, maybe we'll create a Utopia while we're at it!). So my friend the spinning Carlebach guy and I went to Negev (desert in south Israel) Rainbow Gathering with plans to make Shabbas for all the folks there.
I did not know at the time that this would be my departure from the Yeshiva world and would serve as the meeting ground for my future wife and I. Thank G-d I had the privilege to serve many people food, combined with the quit of the desert (midbar) which means speaking in Hebrew. My soul ascended through this selfless work. With G-ds help we were married 6 months later. We now have a holy and BSD healthy family in the old city of Tzvas.
A few words about 'Na Nach':
For years in the beginning of my Tshuva (return) and through my marriage, my lack of awareness only allowed me to see a small picture of Rebbe Nachman's message. At first I really only saw myself, and how I need healing, but slowly my selfishness waned a little I began to except more external reality. What about all the Jews, and the whole world, they also need rectification, not just me?! I came to realize slowly (and not fully there yet) that Rebbe Nachman is not just another cult in religious and Chasidic Judaism. He is the Jewish path to freedom. Freedom from the evil inclination. He is also about freedom from dependence and co-dependence.
It took me a long time to see that only Rebbe Yisrael Dov Ber Oddessor epitomized how one should escape from the pitfalls of false and even true Jewish leadership. With the letter that 'Saba' (Rebbe Yisrael Dov Ber Oddessor) received from Rebbe Nachman, the true path to freedom is identified and revealed. 'Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me'uman' is the path and the leader, and only leader! With the letter the message is driven home, that there can be no truth without humility, and no leadership without honor.
Years of brokenness and disappointment in myself before I became religious and in a way even more so after has taught me that the truth rests with the broken, not with the proud. 'Saba' was the most broken so he merited to receive in the lowest of the lowest places the letter of the redemption. Anyone who has eyes in his head can see the truth, if they only want to.
(The translation of the holy letter):
Very hard it was for me
to descend to you, my precious student
to tell you that I benefited greatly from your service
and upon you I said - My fire will burn
until the Messiah will come
Be strong and courageous in your service
NA NACH NACHMA NACHMAN ME'UMAN
and with this I shall reveal to you a secret, and it is:
Full and heaped up, from end to end (Pay-Tzaddi-Pay-Tzaddi-Yud-Hay)
and with strong service you will understand it, and the sign is -
17th of Tamuz they will say that you are not fasting.