As I wrote here, I am quite interested in the stories of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht) and other parts of the Hasidic and Jewish mystical traditions. I also enjoy the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great grandson of the Besht.

I am sure most of my Israeli readers and most of those who have visited Israel will be familiar with the ‘Na Nachs’, the lively, off-shoot of Nachman Hasidism. Wearing their memorable woven white kippot, they drive around in colourful vans on missions of haftza. They dance to techno and trance music, upon which has been recorded their slogan: “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’uman”.

You can read detailed information on the origins and thoughts of the ‘Na Nachs’ here and here, or a more everyday account from Ha’aretz here.

I first encountered the Na Nachs in person during my Once In A Lifetime trip to Israel last summer. I was having a strangely magical afternoon already. While waiting to meet for my friend Elan Miller on Ben Yehuda Street, I popped into a bookstore. I bought myself a book about the IDF volunteer scheme called Sar-El. I sat down outside to read it and a woman sitting next to me on a bench introduced herself and told me she was a Sar-El regular featured in the book.

Elan and I enjoyed a glorious shawarma and he then popped into a nearby synagogue to pray. While I waited outside (he had invited me in but I felt it appropriate to wait until he had finished praying) the Na Nachs pulled up. Straightaway they put a huge smile on my face and it is no exaggeration to say that they changed my life forever.

I’ve never witnessed such joy and love emanating from a group of people. They danced out of their van, set up a stall and danced around it as their trance music pumped out. They smiled at all who passed by, and offered the most beautiful of hugs to anyone who wanted one. It was lovely to watch them and to watch the effect they had on passers-by. Some gleefully joined them for a dance and a hug, others moved from a frown, to a reluctant smile, to an un-reluctant smile and moved upwards from there.

I had a lovely chat with the Na Nachs. I still read the books they gave me and listen to the music they gave me to this day. The books are particularly great, but every time I think of the Na Nachs I feel happier.

I understand that a lot of people disapprove of them. I am not Jewish so I make no claim on how representative they are or should be of any aspect of the faith. I know their habit of stopping their van in traffic to dance around on the road can be infuriating and dangerous. Jerusalem traffic is hardly a joy at the best of times.

But joy and light is what they gave to me when I met them. As I read their writings, follow their fascinating, uplifting website and so on they continue to do so. The video below is one of my favourites. This is when they took their haftza all the way to the north of Israel during the 2006 defensive war against Hezbollah. Watching them giving such love and fun to the IDF soldiers and the besieged northern communities warms my heart.

I do love them. Long may they dance.

13 Responses to “The Na Nachs”

  1. Elan says:

    Do the Na Nachs knows something that other people don’t? When it comes to the Middle East, maybe something akin to a Bob Marley philosphy should be taken. There so many awful things going on that to concentrate on them would be enough to make anyone despondent. We have to think instead of all the good that happens here. “Don’t worry. Be happy!”

  2. Adrian Whittle says:

    Hello Chas. I wonder if you would be interested in a writing opportunity in Tel Aviv in May this year? It would be in relation to a scheme being operated by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Please contact me via e-mail if you would like more details.

    Best wishes

    Adrian Whittle

  3. Anna says:

    The Na Nachs have also made it to the UK… at least in graffiti form. Caught sight of this the other week, stencilled on the pedestrian overpass on the North Circular where Golders Green Road becomes Brent Street:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/utterlyutter/5422852245/

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chas Newkey-Burden, zipporah jacobs and Tweet Your Prayers, Chas Newkey-Burden. Chas Newkey-Burden said: @Tamarama100 any thoughts? http://www.oyvagoy.com/2011/02/16/the-na-nachs/ [...]

  5. aparatchik says:

    Thank you Chas, that has put a massive smile on my face too!

    Do they also do conventional military service Chas? If not, this more than makes up for it.

    I’d love to see a meeting between them and Hezballah. Then again, maybe not…

  6. La Cumparsita says:

    A friend of mine who recently made aliyah (went to live in Israel) wrote this to me a couple of months ago: ”

    I had a somewhat bizarre but very fun experience one Friday night a few weeks back in Netanya in a synagogue belonging to a Jewish sect known as the Na Nachnikim (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Na_Nach_Nachma_Nachman_Meuman). When I arrived they were in the middle of the afternoon amidah, normally a silent prayer, but here it was far from silent, being peppered with apparently random outbursts of clapping and/or groaning from the participants. There was also someone there dressed as the Baba Sali (http://www.google.com/images?q=baba+sali). Covering one wall was an enlarged version of the holy petek (see the Wikipedia page) which after Lecha Dodi they sang. Twice. And then twice again, to a different tune. All while dancing around the bima. They then proceded to sing a jolly medley of songs containing the Nach Nach mantra, concluding with Kol Haolam Kulo (words by Rebbe Nachman himself), after which 30 minute interlude the service continued. At some point during this unbridled joy one of my fellow congregants turned to me with a most earnest expression, and yelled: “simcha! simcha!” (joy, joy). Clearly I wasn’t enjoying myself enough, although I felt like I was. I was wary of too wide a grin for fear that they would think (with some justification) that I was finding everything rather amusing. A very entertaining evening it was, although over two hours for a Friday night service might be considered somewhat excessive.”

  7. Michael says:

    Even Carl Pilkington got down and dancing with them on his recent “Idiot abroad” Trip to Israel

  8. The middle east is desperate for public diplomacy- governments here are a joke. The uniting figures were Josef and King Solomon. One represented purity and chastity, while the other represented wisdome. Both bring peace and are UNIVERSAL. Rabbi Nachman represents the combination of both, while Moses already sang NaNach and required G-d’s promise that HE would make this name known otherwise he refused to be part of the Tora.

    The Nanachs you see on the streets are closer to G-d then Rabbi Nachman or Rabbi Na Nach (like Jehoshua that lived in in the holy of holies, while Moses did not) However, the redemption will not really begin until the bones of Rabbi Nachman are brought to Jerusalem. Then we can invite Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffet and the whole world to create a new “Disney World” here, with the real Micky Mouse and the real Mousketeers!

    Excuse me if this seems like an “oversimplification” but it is a charicature based on reality.

  9. cityca says:

    Chas, I never saw this when you first posted it and I was absolutely blown away this morning by the video of the Na Nachs with the soldiers – absolutely amazing. Thanks for that.

    By the way, I also do Sar-El, so did you get the name of the woman you met as there is a small chance I might know her?

  10. [...] come on, you didn’t really think I’d forgotten about the NaNachs, did [...]

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