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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Israel! Safed: Jewish History, Kabalah, and a B&B in the Artists Quarter!

The Artists Quarter, Safed
Midway through our fabulous month in Israel, thanks to the American Associates of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, we arrived in Safed (Tzfat in Hebrew) at night, in the dark, in the rain! The ancient city of Safed is a beautiful place, high (3200 feet) in the mountains of the Upper Galilee, and one of Israel's four Holy Cities (Jerusalem, Tzfat, Tiberius and Hebron). Safed is famous for the scholars who studied and developed Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism), and for the great rabbis, such as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who said that the Messiah will come from Safed on his way to Jerusalem; the Ari HaKodesh (The Holy Ari) said that until the Third Temple is built, the Shechinah (God's Manifest Presence) rests above Safed. The biblical Shem and Ever, son and grandson of Noah (yes, the one who built the Ark), established their yeshiva (school) where Jacob (yes, the biblical Jacob of Abraham-Isaac-and-Jacob fame) studied for many years. The city flourished in the 16th century, when many famous Jewish religious scholars and mystics moved to Safed following the Spanish Expulsion, fleeing from the horrors of the Inquisition. Safed then became the spiritual center of the Jewish world, where Kabbalah reached the peak of its influence. Kabbalists, such as Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (Ha-Ari HaKadosh) and Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (author of Lecha Dodi) and Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch), just to name a few, made the city famous. It was here that the first printing press in the Middle East was erected, publishing in 1578 the first Hebrew book to be printed in Israel. At that time the town was a thriving trade center; later Safed's people were to suffer terribly from earthquakes, plagues, and Arab attacks. In modern times, the liberation of Safed was one of the most dramatic episodes in the 1948 War of Independence, and the Davidka Monument in downtown Safed displays the crude but effective cannon that helped win the battles for Safed and The Citadel in 1948.

Davidka Monument, Safed

The Artists Quarter, the old part of Safed, consists of delightful narrow cobblestone alleys full of artist's galleries, medieval synagogues, lovely private homes and gardens, and small guest houses, such as the charming Bar El Bed-and-Breakfast where we stayed for three nights. When I read how the BarEls restored their historic home and opened it as a bed-and-breakfast it resonated with me, as that was what Dan & I did with the Elkhorn Inn! The big difference is that an "old" building in Landgraff, WV means it was built in 1922, and an "old" building in Safed means it was constructed prior to 1500!
In the 1980s I came to Safed to write an article for an Israeli Education Dept. publication on "Livnot v'Lehibanot" (To Build and to Be Built), a program involving students in both ongoing archaeology and personal discovery in Safed. I was lucky to meet a couple who had immigrated to Israel from Canada and had bought a home in Safed; they decided to dig down below their floor- uncovering the history of Safed, layer by layer- and they kept digging until they hit the Crusader-era toilets, which became the amazing highlight of their basement! The last time I'd been in Safed was in 1985 when I was in the Israeli Army. The Education Corps sent me to Safed to illustrate a book on Safed's history, and I spent a wonderful week traveling around Safed with my pens and pads, making detailed pen-and-ink illustrations of buildings and historic sites dating from ancient times thru the War of Independence in 1948...



Safed, in the mist...


"The Purple Door" to the BarEl B&B,
our home in Safed!



A hand-painted
electrical box in Safed!
 
Artists Quarter, Safed


Our guest room
BarEl B&B
 

Dan, at home! BarEl B&B


Our guest room, BarEl B&B
 

Ronen: Mr. Lachouch!
During our days in Safed, Dan and I went to the International Center for Kabballah in Safat, which has a variety of truly unique learning experiences to offer, and we stopped nearby for a delicious light lunch of Yemenite Lachouch, fried pancakes topped with vegetables and Yemenite spices and herbs, made by Ronen,  Mr. Lachouch, himself!

Wandering through the beautiful stone alleyways full of galleries we found the Canaan Gallery, a wonderful weaver's gallery and workshop where Orna Mor and her staff creates hand-woven textiles influenced by Kabbalistic teachings of Safed, as well as the nature that surrounds the town. In creating Judaica, talit (prayer shawls), kippot (head-coverings), challah covers (ceremonial covers for the Sabbath bread), and other beautiful things, Orna weaves designs which not only visualize the holidays and life-cycle events that the objects are going to be used for, but include the concepts that these ceremonies represent. I loved the beautiful, locally hand-made things in her shop, as well as her delightful cafe with its views of the city, and we bought gifts for friends there, as well as two special ceramic pomegranates for the Elkhorn Inn...
Orna, Canaan Gallery, Safed

Dan, with a weaver at Canaan Gallery, Safed

Thread colored with Tchelet, the ancient and famed blue dye,
used for prayer shawl tzizit (tassels); Canaan Gallery, Safed

Canaan Gallery weaving studio, Safed

From the Cafe at Canaan Gallery, Safed


Safed is also famous for its ancient cemetery, and people come from all over the world to sit, pray, beseech, or simply be in the company of the great rabbis who are buried there. The most famous is Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the Holy Ari, who came to Tzfat in 1530 from Egypt, and was one of the most famous Kabbalists of all times. Next to the Ari is buried his son, Rabbi Moshe Luria, and nearby are the graves of Rabbi Moshe Alsheich, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (author of Lecha Dodi, the song that welcomes Shabbat (the Sabbath), and Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulhan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. The cemetery is ancient; some of the oldest graves are those of Hosea the Prophet, Rav Pinchas Ben Yair (father-in-law of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, composer of the Kabalistic Book of the Zohar in the 1st century A.D.), and, some believe, Chana and her Seven Sons of Hanukkah fame! Dan and I went to the cemetery so I could say prayers for health and "Refuah Shlemah" (complete healing), and for security for the State of Israel at the grave of the Holy Ari, and we found the medieval Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Ari Synagogue, with it's magnificent carved Torah Ark and Kabbalah-motif stained glass windows...

The graves of the Rabbis, Safed


The graves of the Rabbis, Safed

The ancient cemetery of Safed

Safed cemetery, with the 1948 graves and memorial
from the War of Independence




The Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue, Safed


The Ark, Ari Synagogue, Safed


Kabala window
Ari Synagogue, Safed






















Lunch was blintzes and pizza at "Art Cafe", a garden cafe overlooking the city and the country...
Art Cafe, Safed











...and dinner was a delicious shvarma (grilled lamb or turkey, on the spit) from a "hole in the wall" stand on Kikar HaMaganim in the old city! A pita filled to overflowing with grilled lamb slices, topped with an assortment of salads, peppers, pickles, and sweet-tart Amba, an Indian-Jewish mango sauce that's so yummy it could make cardboard a delicacy! All to the tune of hip Hasidic "Breslaw" music! Then we quenched our thirsts with yummy Mint Lemonade at the cafe across the courtyard...

In the late afternoon we found ourselves in trendy, modern, downtown Safed, and rested our weary feet at a cafe and enjoyed a cappuccino- a.k.a. Cafe Hafouch, or "upside-down coffee"!
Modern, downtown Safed:
things that make me smile!

Garage doors, Safed
















Next: Horseback Riding in the Galilee, Roman ruins in Tiberius, gourmet Nazareth, & a 2000 year old boat!

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