Once upon a time, a person could easily make reference to a rabbi, maybe a rav, and maybe even a rebbe, but a kabbalist?
In Jerusalem, a kabbalist is as common as a plumber. Everyone knows what you’re talking about. In the holy city, the lexicon of magic, amulets and incantations are as real as the corner drugstore. You have a cold? Go to a kabbalist. You have a problem in religion? Go to a kabbalist. You want to marry a man? Go to a kabbalist, he’ll help you.
For the past seven plus years I’ve been swimming in kabbalists, collecting true tales from whoever visited with these mystic figures and rebbes. It was research for my novel In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist. Of course, I had my own set of kabbalists I’d met during the ten years I’d lived in Jerusalem, but oddly my experiences created a writerly static in my mind. To construct a fictional kabbalist, I needed to start from scratch.
Someone told me about a kabbalist who predicted he’d win a good chunk of money and he did, only to spend it all on expensive dental surgery the following week. Then there was the kabbalist, quasi-prophetess who directed someone to the exact place where she would meet her bashert, at a silver factory in Givat Shaul. (I don’t recall if she went or not.) A Hasidic man told me about a kabbalist he’d consulted with who said a special prayer whenever his non-religious brother was on the verge of getting married to a non-Jewess. Break-ups always followed shortly after. Continue reading