I first launched this campaign one year ago, on February 11, 2019. It ran for three months and raised nearly $6,000 and then, to my surprise, it stopped. Well, there have been some good developments in my life since then. After reaching the retirement age of 67, I was granted an inexpensive studio apartment with a beautiful view in a home for elderly immigrants. And I continue to run my bookstall at Jerusalem's "First Station" where I don't pay rent. But I have yet to clear my debts, which eat up most of my modest income from book sales and social security. Here is the bigger picture:
I opened Olam Qatan back in the Spring of 1997. It is now Jerusalem’s last surviving spiritual bookstore. From the start I made it a place where all kinds of seekers – secular and religious, Jews and non-Jews – can find books in Hebrew and English (and music CDs) relating to Jewish spirituality, as well as to Sufism, Yoga, Buddhism, Christianity… New Age and holistic health. The name of my bookstore comes from Rabbi Yitzhaq of Acre, a 14th Century Kabbalist who lived in Israel and was friendly with Muslim Sufis. He said, “Everyone is a micro-cosm (olam qatan) and the world as a whole is a macro-human being (adam gadol).”
Over the years we’ve published some books at Olam Qatan. We collaborated this year with another publisher, and launched a new edition of our translation (from Persian into Hebrew) of poems from Rumi’s ‘Diwan’. We've published translations in Hebrew and English of the Turkish poetry of ‘Dervish Yunus Emre’. We also published ‘Lev HaKabbalah’, the Hebrew version of ‘The Essential Kabbalah’ by Daniel Matt.
Yet even with publishing books, it's been hard to stay afloat in this era of big book chains and the internet. Trying desperately, over the years, to keep my store open, I went deeper and deeper into debt. In the Fall of 2017 I was about to close Olam Qatan… when by the grace of God, I was offered a space at Jerusalem’s touristic “First Station”, the old Ottoman railway station. I first set up shop in a bar, but for nearly two years I’ve maintained Olam Qatan inside and outside an enclosed booth besides the bicycle path. Not so many people come by, and in the winter I have to close on the days that are cold and rainy. But all kinds of people, new friends and old, do make their way to my shop, and they discover books that touch their hearts, be it Sufi poetry... or maybe a book on meditation, or Kabbalah, or Jewish prayer. Nearby there are lots of colorful restaurants, and stalls offering handmade crafts and jewelry. And it seems to me that in the holy city of Jerusalem, there should be at least one place where all kinds of seekers can find food for the soul.
The problem is that I’m still carrying accumulated debts from the past of more than 80,000 Israeli shekels (about $25,000, $5,000 less than a year ago) and at the end of a cold and rainy winter (thank God!), I'm again on the verge of bankruptcy. The money I raised last year kept me going, but it didn't eliminate most of my debt. Once again, I’d hate to see the authorities cart off these precious books and CDs... cancel my credit cards, grab my computer, and cut me off from the internet, where I run a very active Facebook group for spiritual seekers!
And these concerns about financial survival distract me from my own book projects. I’m glad to sell books by other people, but as it says in The Song of Songs, “my own vineyard, I've neglected.” I have books in English to complete and publish (via print-on-demand) and promote internationally. Here in Israel, I published and sold-out the first run of my English translations of ‘Dervish Yunus Emre: the Sufi poet who came after Rumi’, which I prepared with the help of a Turkish friend, Refik Algan. I've been polishing a revised edition... and with a bit of money, I'll be ready to launch it soon! I’ve long neglected ‘Rebbe Nahman's Universe’, my own translations of the teachings I first discovered when I was studying with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi back in the early 1970’s. It was there that I discovered the kind of universal vision, in Jewish language, that I was seeking. I then researched and wrote an M.A. thesis on “The Archetype of the Tzaddiq”, tracing the Jewish origins of the idea I discovered in Rebbe Nahman, of the spiritual master as an archetype to be found in the world and within ourselves. I need to make my thesis into a popular book. Then there are the new English versions I’ve been preparing (with help from friends) of the Yiddish poetry of the young Abraham Joshua Heschel, which are in some ways even more radical than the dervish poetry I love! And finally there’s my own spiritual autobiography, which might be simply called ‘Tales of a Jewish Sufi’. I want to relate what I've discovered on the path which led me to Reb Zalman in Winnipeg, to Buddhist meditation, to the Islamic Sufi, Sidi Sheikh Muhammad on the Mount of Olives, and then to the more secular world of Turkish Sufism, which pointed me towards Murat Yagan back in Canada. It was Murat who first introduced me to Yunus Emre. (I edited and compiled Murat’s oral teachings in a book I called ‘The Essence of Sufism in the Light of Kebzeh, the Tradition of the Caucasus Mountains’, which was published by the Kebzeh Foundation in 2009.) Since I first met Murat in 1984, I have been leading Sufi groups, first in Winnipeg and then here in Jerusalem. And for the last four years I’ve also been leading a Facebook group called “Judaism & Sufism – a Spiritual Conversation” which now has more than 2400 members from all over the world. The group allows me to communicate, like I do in my bookstore, with spiritual seekers from all over the world. You can join us on Facebook if you like!
I’ve been doing what I do without any kind of institutional support, as I stand “outside the box” of formal academia and organized religion. At this point I need serious help. Another $30,000 would clear away the debts and would give me the money I need to start launching these books. So please, see what you can do to help this poor dervish continue to hold open doors for all kinds of seekers... here in Jerusalem and all over the world.