Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Religious Graffiti and The Na Nachs

נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן
[English Transliteration: Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman]

Na Nach graffiti at the Tel Aviv bus station.

This is, according to my informal survey, the most common phrase found in graffiti in Israel. A quick Wikipedia search tells us that it is a mantra used by the “Na Nachs,” based on the four Hebrew letters in the name of their movement’s [spiritual] founder, Rabbi Nachman.The mantra [pronounced Nah-nakh-nakhmah-nakhman-meh-oo-mahn] apparently also includes a double entendre: “Meuman” can mean “from Uman” referring to Nachman’s burial place in Uman; it can also mean “believed” or “accredited.”

The Na Nachs are a sect of Hasidic Jews that follow the teachings of Rabbe Yisroel Ber Odesser, whom they believe is a spiritual descendent of Rebbe Nachman, himself. Though small in numbers, they are a visible group, attracting attention by singing and dancing in the streets and blaring “techno-Hasidic” music [I wish I had made this term up, but I didn’t] from the vans they drive. Their self-proclaimed aim is to spread joy…that’s it. As far as I can tell, that’s their whole shtick: chanting their mantra and spreading joy. The mechanism connecting those two aims still remains a bit unclear to me, but it seems harmless enough.

So, why is this interesting?

Well first of all, the phrase is everywhere. Literally everywhere. In fact, the other day I thought it might be interesting to start taking pictures of all the instances I saw of Na Nach graffiti. Turns out someone beat me to it.

Second, it’s weird, right? I mean, where else would you find ubiquitous religious fundamentalist graffiti, roving vans blaring techno-Hasidic music, and men with payot* dancing in the streets…not for any particular reason other than to “spread joy”?

Click here for a YouTube clip of some Na Nachs singing about their Rebbe in the street.

And here is a link to the Na Nach’s site. They are, and I quote, “about real people screaming Na Nach Nachma Nachman meuman!”

*Payot = earlocks / sidecurls / pieces of hair in front of the ear that some Orthodox males wear long because of a biblical injunction against shaving the “corners” of one’s head: “‘You shall not round off the פְּאַ֖ת peya of your head’ (Leviticus 19:27). The word peya was taken to mean the hair in front of the ears extending to beneath the cheekbone, on a level with the nose (Talmud - Makkot 20a).” [Thanks again Wikipedia.]

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