Sunday, February 10, 2013

Birthplace of Kabbala. Safed.

Old Safed (Image by צילום:ד"ר אבישי טייכר)
On this trip, I will get to visit the town of Safed. Located in the mountains, with views of the Sea of Galilee and Mount Hermon, Safed is a picturesque city. Since the 1600's it has been a center of Kabbalah (also known as Jewish mysticism) and in the 1950s and 1960s, Safed was known as Israel's art capital.  I can handle the art part and will enjoy wandering through all the galleries.  The Kabbalah part?  Not so sure I will even understand it but I will remain open minded.'

Safed's old city is built in a circular fashion around a hilltop, and new neighborhoods lie on adjacent hills.

The old city, which is the main destination for visitors, is really only accessible by foot.  It is small but from what I've read, it can be quite difficult to find your way in.  Basically, the old city is a amaze of pedestrian alleys with few markings of street names or house numbers. The best way to get around is to base yourself on the broad "Olei HaGardom" staircase which goes up and down the hill.

This staircase was built by the British during the 1936-1939 riots to separate what (at the time) were the Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.  The staircase, unlike most other places in the old city, is equipped with many signs and maps indicating the way to major sites. The best way of getting from one place to another is often to take an alley (circling the hilltop) to the staircase, go up or down the staircase as necessary, and take another alley to your destination.

Ari Ashkenaz Synagogue (Image by Roylindman)
According to one guide, most synagogues and Jewish sites are found north of the staircase, while most art galleries have since located to the south.  This should be fun.  Pray I don't get lost. :-)

Safed's Jewish quarter is made up of ancient alleyways filled with beautiful synagogues, some of them rather famous world-wide among the Jewish community. These include:

Ari Ashkenazi and the Ari Sephard Synagogues were both built in memory of Rabbi Isaac Luria. The Ari Ashkenazi is normally open for visitors on weekdays and boasts an ornate ark. The Ari Sephard synagogue is only open for prayers on the Sabbath.

Abuhav Synagogue (Image by israeltourism)

 Abuhav Synagogue holds the reputation of being the most unique, most beautiful, and most famous synagogues in Safed. It was built in the 1490's according to Kabbalistic architectural and spiritual beliefs.

The "Caro" synagogue is another popular landmark, established in the 16th century on the site of a yeshiva run by one of the chief rabbis of Tsfat, and a compiler of the Shulchan Aruch, a book of Jewish law.

There's also an Ancient Cemetery that is a common destination for visitors to Safed.  Not sure I'm keed on going to a cemetary unless there are interesting looking headstones.  Do Jewish cemeteries even have headstones?

Ruins of the Crusader Fortress (Image by Bukvoed)





Crusader Fortress.  Located at the top of the Old City hill, all that remains of the fortress are some interesting walls and buildings.  Unfortunately,  there are no helpful explanatory signs.  So, sorry to say but this will be a bunch of rocks for me unless there is some sort of guide explaining the site :-(  On the upside, the top of the hill offers incredible views of the surroundings.

 We'll be visiting Safed on our way to the Golan Heights where we will be spending the night.  I hope the weather is nice and that we'll have enough time to visit at least the highlights and wander through some of the art galleries.