JAT, Israel - Agence France-Presse
Israeli Jew Miki Cohen whirls at the garden of his house near the Druze village of Jat in northwestern Israel. ‘I can’t describe the joy of disconnecting from everything,’ he says. AFP photos
As the sun begins setting over his mountainside dwelling, Miki Cohen takes his position under a wrought iron gazebo and slowly begins to spin in the meditative dance of a Whirling Dervish.
With his arms folded across his chest, he slowly picks up tempo in time with the mystical Sufi music playing on his mobile phone. Then, lifting his arms above his shoulders, he continues to turn, his eyes tightly shut in contemplation.
For 58-year-old Cohen, this is the answer to a lifetime of spiritual seeking, a journey that has seen him become the first Jewish Israeli to gain access to the sacred ritual of the Islamic Mevlevi Sufi order, better known as the Whirling Dervishes.Coming across Rumi
Born into a middle-class Israeli family living near Tel Aviv, Cohen’s odyssey began during the turbulence of the 1973 Middle East War when he was serving as a medic. That experience, he says, shattered his sense of security and forced him to start questioning everything, sending him on a decades-long search for peace.
After a brief dalliance with Jewish spirituality, he came across the mystical writings of Jalal al-Din Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet from Persia whose followers set up the order of the Whirling Dervishes after his death, with the trance-like dance a central part of their worship.
“The more I read Rumi, the closer I got,” said Cohen. A Dervish is essentially a follower of the ascetic lifestyle of a Sufi Muslim, and as Cohen’s fascination with Rumi’s teachings grew, he began shedding the trappings of everyday life.
He separated from his wife, moved into a caravan and began travelling the country like a nomad. Crediting Rumi with his transformation, Cohen decided in 2005 to travel to the poet’s tomb in the central Turkish city of Konya.
A chance encounter on a bus put him in touch with one of the Mevlevi Sufi devotees, who invited him to stay with them for a week and learn their mystical spinning dance, known as the Sama.
For a Jewish Israeli, such an invitation to enter the heart of this conservative Islamic order was unprecedented. And there, amid the rhythmic chanting and frenetic whirling of the Dervishes, Cohen finally found the elusive peace he had been seeking. Yelda Yanat Kapkın, a Turkish film-maker has been following Cohen’s spiritual search for years. These days Cohen lives on an isolated piece of land on a rocky hillside covered with olive trees near the Druze village of Jat in northwestern Israel.
“I can’t describe the joy of disconnecting from everything,” he says of his remote mountain hideout, which he has slowly transformed into a home of sorts.
With only solar power at his disposal, he relies on his mobile phone for his Sufi music needs.