Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I love this

Breslov to Chabad: We can be Crazy, Too

In what can only be a bid to stay on Jbloggers' radar screens, one of the weirder Hasidic sects is back in the news.

It all started with a stupid political promise.
During his tenure as mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert paid a condolence call to a family of followers of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. Olmert asked courteously if there was anything he could do for the mourners.

Fortunately, they asked only this: that if he should ever become prime minister, he would act to bring Rabbi Nachman's remains from the city of Uman, in Ukraine, for reburial in Jerusalem.

Olmert promised.

The Prime Minister's Office was recently involved in bringing the remains of the family of Theodor Herzl to Israel. It was a good story. With the country's 60th anniversary of independence approaching, Olmert wants something even more beautiful, and what could be more beautiful, more Jewish, more stately and more appropriate for Independence Day than interring the remains of Rabbi Nachman on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem? Everyone will be happy at this funeral, and happiness, after all, is one of the main tenets of Rabbi Nachman's doctrine.

Hey, I've got a great idea; why don't we dig up every famous rabbi ever and bury them all on the Mount of Olives? I think there's still some room over in that left corner. Quick, did any of them have kids? Oh really? Sweet. Funny, I thought part of the old Zionist line was that Israel was the new, living country for Jews and Poland and Ukraine were the graveyards.

The Bratslav Hasidim are indeed a community of happiness, although when we speak of "Bratslav Hasidim," it is necessary to be precise: they are not all cut from the same cloth. Israelis are mostly familiar with those who dance at traffic lights with boom boxes and paint the mysterious sequence "Na - Nach - Nachman" on walls. They are the ones who want Rabbi Nachman's remains to be interred in Jerusalem.

Alongside the populist branch are those identified with the World Breslov [Bratslav] Center; they do not want Olmert to interrupt their rebbe's rest. He was buried in Uman at his explicit instructions. His tomb projects magic that is liable, heaven forbid, to dissipate if it is moved; and anyway, who authorized the government of the Zionist state to seize control of his heritage?

Oh yeah. You have to protect that tomb-magic. It's at least at valuable as gold, and with the economy the way it is, it can only increase in value. In time, we might even be able to create cars that run on tomb-magic. And as an added bonus, you won't need airbags or seatbelts.

Rabbi Nachman's tomb attracts about 30,000 Hasidim a year, most of them from Israel and the United States. With their numbers rising all the time, the Hasidim decided to expand the synagogue adjacent to the tomb. That was about 10 years ago. In Ukraine these things are done - how to put it? - the way they are in the Jerusalem Municipality, more or less: by a fusion of big capital and government. The Hasidim found a contractor who is also a member of parliament, Petro Kuzmenko by name. He is a member of the party whose leader is now the country's prime minister. A goy with a Jewish partner.

Agreement was reached on a project that was to cost $5 million. In return for the plans, the Bratslavers agreed to pay $195,000; they gave $95,000 as a down payment. The Ukrainian parliamentarian sent plans, but the Hasidim were dissatisfied and said they would pay no more.

However, it then emerged that in their naivete they had signed a contract obliging them to pay $1,000 for every day of payment arrears, and before they could say Na - Nach - Nachman the debt had swelled to $3 million, and the holy tomb was liable to become the goy's personal property.

What's that line about God helping those who help themselves? Here's a radical idea, guys: take all that money you're pissing away on an empty building and create some viable charities for your followers in Israel, or, God forbid, the Ukraine.

But it's not all bad. The Breslovers have the Israeli government on their side, and luckily, somebody knew somebody who knew somebody, and before you know it, they're chatting up the Ukrainian President!

In the meantime, Corinaldi made contact with someone who knows someone in the bureau of President Yushchenko. Yushchenko himself called the goy parliamentarian. He is not from his party, but still, a call from the president is something. Afterward, attorney Corinaldi got a call from Yushchenko's bureau asking if he would be so kind as to make time to meet with the president during his visit to Jerusalem. To the meeting, in the King David Hotel, the lawyer brought Rabbi Daniel Dayan, a Hollywood actor who became religiously observant and is a senior Bratslav figure. Dayan did what Jews always did when they went to talk to the paritz: He gave Yushchenko a fine silver goblet. Mrs. Yushchenko, who is also of American origin, acted as interpreter. Both of them were properly impressed.

You know, I really don't understand this whole humble Court Jew, give the lord a fancy present, dynamic.

Anyway, the Ukranians are now going to protect the tomb, which is good for the Hasidim (and Uman's economy). The bad news: it doesn't look like the Nachman's making aliyah anytime soon.

Haaretz concludes with this charming little anecdote about an exchange between former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and then PM Menachem Begin over how to honor Israel's 30th anniversary:

Less than a year after Begin's election, which ousted Labor after 29 years, Kollek was still finding it hard to come to terms with the change. He therefore suggested that the prime minister ask the Pope to lend Israel Michelangel's sculpture of Moses, which would be placed at the site of the Western Wall.

The Prime Minister's Office, not realizing at first that Kollek was making fun of Begin, made cautious overtures to the religious public about whether the statue, with the horns on its forehead, would offend their sensibilities. Why should they be upset, Kollek said in a message to Begin; after all I did not suggest asking for the statue of David, who is not circumcised. Kollek was a rare bird among the country's founding fathers: He had a sense of humor.


No comments: