Back in the Spring of 1997 I opened Olam Qatan, which is now Jerusalem’s last surviving spiritual bookstore. Instead of just a "New Age" bookstore, I made it a place where all kinds of seekers – religious and secular, 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, early Christianity… New Age and holistic health. The name of the store 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 of our own, including poems from Rumi’s ‘Diwan’ translated from Persian into Hebrew, and a Hebrew and then an English translation of the Turkish poetry of ‘Dervish Yunus Emre’. Also ‘Lev HaKabbalah’, the Hebrew version of ‘The Essential Kabbalah’, the popular English anthology by Daniel Matt.
Yet even with publishing books of our own, in this era of the internet it's hard to stay afloat. In my efforts, over the years, to keep the store open, I’ve gone deeper and deeper into debt. I was about to close Olam Qatan in the Fall of 2017… but by the grace of God, I was offered a space at Jerusalem’s touristic “First Station” where the only rent I pay is a percentage of sales. At first I set up shop in a bar, but since last Spring I’ve maintained Olam Qatan in a booth besides the bicycle path. Not many people come, and in the winter I have to close on days that are cold and rainy. But a variety of folks continue to make their way to the shop, looking for books that will touch their hearts, be it Sufi poetry... or a book on Kabbalah or Jewish prayer. Nearby we have lots of restaurants offering all kinds of food. It seems to me that the holy city of Jerusalem should have at least one place offering various kinds of food for the soul!
The problem is that I’m carrying an accumulated debt of more than 100,000 Israeli shekels (about $30,000) and I’m on the verge of going bankrupt. I’d hate to see the authorities cart off all these precious books! Yet there is light on the horizon: I’ve just turned 67, retirement age. Although I'm not retired, I’ve begun to receive a small pension and I’m waiting to receive a subsidized one-room apartment. But right now I’m out of money and I have debts to pay, and the bank and the credit card companies won’t grant me any more loans – although the bank official who said “no”, said she once bought five copies of ‘Dervish Yunus’ at my store!
And these concerns about financial survival have distracted 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, publish (via print-on-demand) and promote internationally. Here in Israel, I published and sold-out a small 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. Now I need to launch a new edition. I’ve long neglected ‘The Universe of Rebbe Nahman’, my own translations of the teachings I discovered when I was studying with Reb Zalman Schachter back in the early 1970’s, which offered me, in Jewish language, the kind of universal vision I was seeking. I then researched and wrote my M.A. thesis on “The Archetype of the Tzaddiq”, tracing back through earlier Jewish sources Reb Nahman’s idea of the model of the spiritual master which is to be found both in the world and within ourselves. I need to make this into a popular book. But along with looking at Jewish mysticism from a kind of a “Sufi” perspective (the Sufi parallel to the Tzaddiq is called “The Complete Human Being”), there’s looking at Sufism from more of a “Jewish” point-of-view. I discovered that friendly competition is reflected in the stories of the Turkish Sufi orders about Rumi and Yunus Emre, inviting us to consider ‘Controversy for the Sake of Heaven in the Sufi Tradition’. Then there are the new versions I’ve been preparing (with help from friends) of the Yiddish poetry of the young Abraham Joshua Heschel, which are in some ways more radical than the dervish poetry I love! And finally there’s my own book, 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, and on to the Islamic Sheikh Sidi Muhammad on the Mount of Olives, and then to the more secular world of Turkish Sufism, represented by 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’, published by the Kebzeh Foundation.) And then just before I opened Olam Qatan, I forged a spiritual friendship with a modest “Melami” dervish who was visiting from Istanbul, Baba Mehmet Selim. Baba passed away just a few months ago, and all of my teachers have now left this world. I myself have been leading Sufi groups, first in Winnipeg and then Jerusalem, since I first met Murat. And for the last three years I’ve also been leading a Facebook group called “Judaism & Sufism – a Spiritual Conversation” which now has some 1700 members from all over the world. You can join us if you like!
I’ve been doing what I do without any kind of institutional support, standing “outside the box” of academia and organized religion. It now feels like a critical moment, so I’m asking for help from friends, friends-of-friends, and anyone willing to help. $30,000 would clear away the debt, and another $6,000 would allow me to launch these books. So I’m asking for $36,000. According to a popular Jewish tradition, 36 is the number of ‘Tzaddiqim’, the “Righteous” who sustain the world. I hope people will give enough to allow Olam Qatan to continue in Jerusalem, and allow me to share the fruits of what I’ve discovered with the whole world.