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This article was published 24/9/2010 (3543 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With so many of Judaism's major festivals falling in early autumn, this time of year traditionally becomes a period of celebration and reflection within the Jewish community.
This year, a dedicated group of Winnipeg Jews is planning to add a few more days of festivities to the mix. This group, inspired by University of Manitoba Judaic Studies professor Justin Jaron Lewis, is hosting Winnipeg's first ever Nachmanifest!, a festival celebrating the life and legacy of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
Taking place on the weekend of Sept. 25 to 26 and during the week of Oct. 13 to 17, this festival will feature an array of events and activities related to the Rebbe's teachings and life philosophy. These will include storytelling, Torah study and meditation sessions, as well as dance, music and art workshops and concerts. They will be held at a variety of venues across the city, facilitated by both local and visiting teachers and scholars.
Rebbe Nachman, 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.
Rebbe Nachman was a sage, teacher, healer and storyteller who, like other Hasidic rabbis, espoused a religiosity that emphasized joyfulness, mysticism, closeness to God and communion with nature.
He was, however, much more emotional and much more demanding of his followers than were other Hasidic leaders.
"Rebbe Nachman resisted the tendency for Hasidism to become a safe and comfortable way of life, in which you trust in your Rebbe and go to him for blessings and otherwise live by conventional Jewish standards," explains Lewis.
"He was very demanding of each individual (and) he was a deep philosophical thinker who sought new ways through the age-old dilemmas of faith and reason."
He also was a controversial leader who was derided by other Hasidic rabbis for his egoism, purported healing powers, and friendship with the secularizing freethinkers of the day, known as the maskalim.
Nonetheless, he enjoyed a huge following among Hasidic groups from the Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Poland who revelled in his mythical storytelling, his music and his words of wisdom.
"What comes through in his teachings is a real and nuanced guidance to acknowledge consciously and intentionally the world's brokenness," says Alon Weinberg, one of the organizers of Nachmanifest!. "His stories are rich with archetypal images that transcend our individual situations and embody deeper longings and stirrings in the human soul for a world whole and complete."
Each year during Rosh Hashanah, thousands of the Rebbe's followers flocked to his side to listen to and be inspired by these stories. When he died in 1810 at the age of 39, they began making annual pilgrimages to his gravesite in Uman, Ukraine. Although these pilgrimages all but ceased as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Stalinist purges and the Nazi reign of terror, they resumed openly in 1989 after the fall of communism.
Last week, 200 years after the Rebbe's death, 35,000 thousand Hasidim, most of them from Israel, spent the Jewish New Year at his gravesite.
Neither Lewis nor Weinberg are Hasidim, but they have long been enamoured by the Rebbe's lessons, philosophies, stories and uplifting songs.
"The people who happen to be involved in organizing Nachmanifest! here in Winnipeg are not Hasidim," Lewis emphasizes, "...unless you broaden the definition to include those of us inspired by Hasidic teachings, stories and melodies, without actually following the rigorous rules of Hasidic life."
"Rebbe Nachman's appeal goes well beyond Orthodox circles and is appealing to those of us who identify with a neo-Hasidic spirit," says Weinberg.
"We live in a time of perpetual ocean spills, deforestation, violence and the mass extinction of species," he adds. "In such a time, a person who is aware, who is thinking beyond his individual self, would be hard-pressed not to feel despair. Nachman's counsel not to despair and his inspiration to live life full of joy despite the mess we're in is for me a wonderful teaching."
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