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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
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Different From You And Me

book-Hope-Merchant

The Hope Merchant
By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
Leviathan Press

Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz is just like any other guy who made aliyah in 1991, worked on a religious kibbutz and built a family. Except that he was kicked out of the aliyah office for being a single non-professional. Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz is just like any other guy who left university to pursue a career. Except it was Rutgers and he left in his senior year and he decided on his career of choice – being a French chef – after hanging around with bikers. Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz is, well, he isn’t really like any other guy. He just published his first book, The Hope Merchant, it’s not like any other book.

If The Baal Shem Tov, Viktor Frankl, J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl could have collaborated on a book together, The Hope Merchant would have been the result. And as Berkowitz would say, It is entirely possible. It’s about life and about magic and about the magic of life. The Hope Merchant is a riveting, powerful, compelling masterpiece.

Berkowitz developed the idea for Theo, the child who grows up to become the Hope Merchant, when he and his family were living in Bat Ayin (in a home he built himself) after he completed a stint as an IDF medic and while working as a chef and learning in the yeshiva there. For a moment, he thought his 5-year-old son had prophetic powers. It turned out – spoiler alert – that he did not, but it got Berkowitz thinking: What would it be like to have a son with such powers, who knew what was going on in everyone’s heart and mind? What would it be like to be the father of Mashiach, for example, whose sole purpose was to do tikkun olam?

“ We’re here to fix the world and the only way to fix the world is fix ourselves and the only way to do that is to go a little bit crazy,” he says.

“I’m very comfortable with the idea of revealed magic. The world is full of magic, you just have to open your eyes and see it. The Hope Merchant never directly solves problems with magic, what he does is raise their consciousness and change their perspective through magic. It’s all tikkunim.”

The 52-year-old ba’al teshuvah, who originally hails from New Jersey, lives in Katzrin in the Golan with his wife Devora Gila and their four children.

“I wrote The Hope Merchant because I wanted to show what happens when people have their dreams stolen,” says Berkowitz.

“Have you forgotten your dreams?” The Hope Merchant asks a defeated and hopeless Lily when she “happens” upon his shop. Berkowitz wanted to talk about what matters most to people that if it’s taken away they are left hollow. So he wrote a book about a singular individual who is able to restore people’s dreams to them.

As one of the protagonists in the story says, “If I allow my dreams to fade and die, then I will be less than God created me.”

The 400-page book was 12 years in the writing and three in the publishing, finally published by Shimon Apisdorf at Leviathan Press. But it’s definitely worth waiting for. You get the feel already for what type of book this is going to be by the cover’s beautiful and mystical art by Luana Kaufmann.

The writing flows like a soul song but it isn’t all imagination. For example, a good deal of the story takes place on a dairy farm. Berkowitz spent five years at Sde Eliyahu“acting as a surrogate mother for sabra calves.”

I think the acid test of a book is how it changes you. Well, I haven’t totally transformed yet but ever since I read the book I’ve been trying to be more compassionate to people, trying to remember to honor them more and see past their façade to their hopes and feelings and pain. This book isn’t just a good read. It makes you want to be a good person, a better person and it makes you believe you can, which is, again, a very Jewish perspective. And one of my hopes is that there will be more books by this talented and unconventional writer because although Berkowitz says he identifies most with the character of Theo’s father, he himself is a Hope Merchant.

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