Jerusalem Shoppe bridges two venerable cities on hills

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San Francisco and Jerusalem are separated by more than several thousand miles, two bodies of water and two continents, but that doesn't mean these far-flung metropolises can't come together.

Just ask Joan Tessler. Two decades ago, Tessler combined a love for art, a love for the varied faces of Jerusalem and an attachment to San Francisco to help create The Jerusalem Shoppe. Located for the past 22 years in San Francisco's colorful Castro District, the thriving shop offers a variety of art objects — from jewelry to statuary — at a range of prices.

Despite it's decidedly Judaic name, The Jerusalem Shoppe is not limited to Jewish merchandise. That's just what Tessler wanted.

Like so many good things, the shop was born of humble roots. It started in 1971, when Tessler was a "disciple" of Sufism, a form of Muslim mysticism. Working with a teacher here in San Francisco, Tessler read various sacred texts, including the Bible, which put her in touch with her Jewish roots in a way she had never before experienced.

So, Tessler and her then-partner went on a trip to Israel. While he went on a 40-day religious pilgrimage, Tessler spent two months working on Kibbutz Urim. When they reunited, he told her of a vision for a store — a vision so detailed it included a logo.

The couple returned to San Francisco and spent the next few years saving money, collecting art objects and working toward that vision. In 1974, it was realized at 531 Castro St.

That vision was of a shop that recreated Jerusalem's eclectic, centuries-old art bazaars, where a variety of cultures meet at the marketplace. Tessler was at first worried about the name and the limited image it might present, but that didn't halt progress.

She recalls thinking that "`everyone will think we sell religious articles only,' but that was the vision, so that's what we did."

The store spent its first 22 years at the Castro location, but Tessler, who eventually took over sole control of the store, said starting April 1 The Jerusalem Shoppe is at the nearby 313 Noe St.

The new location, right off Market Street, even has a fitting feel about it — it's a converted Victorian that seems a work of art unto itself.

Nuala Baerman, a key member of Tessler's staff for six years, said the former home has original features, such as wooden arches, pillars, wainscoting and stained-glass windows. Those will be incorporated in the shop's design.

"It's so beautiful," Baerman said. "There's a gorgeous old stone fireplace, and one of our display cases will curve around it. It's kind of a marriage of the old store and a new space."

That's a fitting description, one that also reflects the variety of objects The Jerusalem Shoppe offers. Items include Star of David necklaces, jewelry made from Roman glass excavated in Israel, a 17th Century Kali statue and a statue of Shechina, which Baerman describes as a kabbalistic version of Shakti, the female soul of God.

"It's the only place I know of, not just in San Francisco but anywhere, where you can buy a ring for $25 and turn around and buy one for $2,500," Baerman said.

That's exactly the diversity Tessler was going for. As her long-ago teacher taught her, art can bring people together and bringing people together can lead to peace. That's the lesson of Jerusalem for her.

"So making the store look like Jerusalem was just a thrill for me," Tessler said, "because I loved it so much."