The odds were totally stacked against him. On one side stood his teachers and friends, who wished they could come along but were too frightened to try. On the other side stood a most formidable enemy: Communist Russia, land of the secret police, Siberian exile, and ruthless religious oppression. In the center was the goal: to pray at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine, which was off-limits to foreigners. How could a young chassid from New York do the impossible and break through the Iron Curtain? Unbelievably, he succeeded. And his new book, Against All Odds, tells how in spellbinding detail. Part adventure story, part undercover intrigue, part heroic epic, this appealing autobiography by Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer follows the author from his childhood in the Bronx to his emergence as a hero of the Breslov movement. Thanks to his single-minded determination to infiltrate the Soviet Union and sneak into Uman in the early 1960s, Fleer helped open the door to thousands of Jews who have since traveled to Uman to pray at Rebbe Nachman's gravesite. The tension and terror of living under the Russian hammer and sickle springs to life under the author's expressive pen. Fleer, a popular Breslov lecturer in America and Israel, makes it perfectly clear that his was not an easy undertaking. His desperate attempts to hide his Jewish identity, escape the pervasive surveillance of police officers and hotel staff, and survive a night in the Uman jail show us just how dangerous the Soviet Union was only a few decades ago. They also make us realize how valuable the goal was. Rebbe Nachman, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, revitalized the chassidic movement in the early nineteenth century and created thousands of followers in Ukraine, Byelorussia, Lithuania, and Poland. The tradition of praying at his gravesite stems from an unusual promise which Rebbe Nachman made before his death: "If someone comes to my grave, gives a coin to charity, and says these ten Psalms [known as the Tikkun HaKlali], I will pull him out from the depths of Gehinnom! It makes no difference what he did until that day, but from that day on, he must take upon himself not to return to his foolish ways" (Tzaddik #229). That promise fired Fleer's imagination as he grew closer to Breslov Chassidut under the tutelage of Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, who nurtured the Breslov movement in America from the 1950s onward. Fleer was also inspired by the personal examples of Breslov chassidim who had escaped to Israel and America. These men had suffered under Communism, yet emerged whole in their faith and commitment to Judaism. With the flair of a novelist, Fleer balances the dire warnings he receives from these Russian veterans against the constant police scrutiny he weathers on each trip, skillfully building suspense towards the satisfying climax. The book contains several bonus chapters that offer a wider look at the Breslov movement and its followers. A host of biographical sketches, together with stories about Breslover chassidim who survived Communist oppression and imprisonment, provide valuable background material for both beginning and advanced students of Breslov. For readers who would like to know more about the Uman experience, an illuminating description of Rosh Hashanah in Uman is included. In October 2005, tens of thousands of Jews from around the world traveled to Uman to spend Rosh Hashanah with Rebbe Nachman. Forty years ago, a single American chassid risked his life and freedom to attend the Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage, which consisted of only eleven other Russian chassidim. How does the impossible become possible? Perhaps this amazing result could be explained by Rebbe Nachman himself, who taught: If there is something you really want, or something you wish would happen, focus every ounce of your concentration on that thing or event. Visualize it in fine detail. If your desire is strong enough and your concentration intense enough, you can make it come true (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #62).
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