Monday, March 4, 2013

Safed & Baniass Springs.

Street in Old City Safed.

I had the best night sleep yet last night. Woke up as rested as I could ever be. I made my way down to breakfast at around 7:30a. The other four were already there so I joined them at the table. I ate pretty quickly. I have come to the conclusion that Jewish *tour group* buffet style breakfast is not my kind of meal so I eat to fill up but there is no lingering over it.


I finished with enough time to wander about the kibbutz. George had walked around yesterday so I followed his advice and headed out in search of what he said was a well tended garden.

Happily it is another picture perfect day in Israel - the sun is shining in all its glory and there is just the slightest bit of humidity in the air.

I followed the signs to the small flower garden and strolled through it. As George had mentioned, there is a small plot of roses but unfortunately, it's still too early in the year for blooms.






I also took George's advice to wander in the residential area. It looked like a townhouse community with houses ringing a center courtyard of grass. Oddly enough, the place seemed a bit unkempt to me. Still it was a nice quite neighborhood - at least early in the morning. I can imagine that later in the day, the sound of happy children playing fills the air.


Somehow I imagined every house would be the same, identical in size but there were different models and at least one house was having an addition added to it.


Nice and quiet place for an early morning stroll.

I couldn't completely figure out the snack sign - coffee/tee, ice cream and ???

I spotted a sign, in English, that pointed the way to the synagogue so I headed down that path. Synagogues are very unassuming places - unlike churches or even mosques. Somehow the exterior of this one reminded me of an elementary school. I peeked inside the windows and took some photos.

The Synagogue, pretty unassuming looking building.



A pretty mosaic on the sidewalk outside the front entrance of the Synagogue.

I still had some time before having to meet up with the rest of the group so I took the long way back to the hotel. It was a nice walk to get the blood juices flowing for the day.

The cute little house kitty would keep me company every morning as I waited for the rest of the gang to arrive.

View of Kibbutz Lavi from the circular driveway.  The front entrance is to the right of where the vans and car are.

Uri arrived on time as did everyone else and we were on the road by 8:30a. Our first stop of the day was the small town of Safed which on the Israeli road signs was posted as Zafet and that's how Uri pronounced it except the "a" was silent. Located on a mountain in the Galilee region, Safed is the highest elevation town in the region. As we neared the mountain, Uri pointed out the big black cloud that hovered over it. He was praying it would not rain. I, on the other hand, was praying it would not be too cold as I had not thought to bring along my sweater this morning so I was hoping that my two layers of t-shirts would be sufficiently warm.

It was a sunny morning in the Lower Galilee but it wouldn't be sunny where we were headed.

See the clouds?  That's what our day would be like.   Cloudy.

Lots of green land.  In the far distance, there's a teeny weeny spot that looks like a lake.  That's the Sea of Galilee.

It really is pretty in the Upper Galilee.

A bit of a hazy view but that is the Sea of Galilee.

The town clings to the hillsides so we were soon on a narrow winding road making our way up to the old part of the town which is filled with art galleries and old synagogues.


Uri parked the van in the lot and as I got out, I realized I would have been more comfortable with a sweater on - it was a bit damp and chilly.  There was a small group of musicians warming up while waiting for a bar mitzvah party to arrive.


We followed Uri to an art gallery that he said had art that was representative of the artists in the region. I was not keen on going to yet another place to shop but looking at art is something I do enjoy and besides, it meant being in the warmth of the indoors. The gallery was okay. Art in Israel is either super modern or all about Judaism. I actually found that I prefer the latter. Nothing here really interested me or anyone else in the group so we all left empty handed.

We headed on, past the parking lot and into the main stretch of stores and galleries.

The next place we went in to was the gallery belonging to an artist whose specialty is Hebrew microcalligraphy which is the art of using very, very tiny Hebrew lettering to create images. This I like and I saw my first paintings in Jerusalem but did not buy anything there. Here, the images are mainly passages from Old Testament. My eyes fell on a piece that had colors that matched my living room and I felt the characters were a happy lot. The words are from Judges XI. I'm very happy with my piece and look forward to getting it framed and hanging it on my living room wall.


While we were in the store, a bar mitzvah party came by. I videotaped a bit of the celebration. 



From one gallery, we went to another one - this one with a lot of modern art. I didn't buy anything but the other two couples did.

More shopping, window shopping for me, as we made our way down the narrow pedestrian only street.

Then, it was off to see one of the synagogues - the Caro Synagogue which is named after Rabbi Joseph Caro, scholar and Kabbalist. Rabbi Joseph Caro, born in Spain in 1488, was expelled from Spain along with the rest of Spanish Jewry and after living in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, he settled in Safed in 1536. He served as the town’s Chief Rabbi and Head of the Rabbinic Court until his death in 1575. He is buried in the town's cemetery.

The original synagogue was built in the 16th century as a large and magnificent synagogue and house of learning but it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1759 and subsequently in an earthquake in 1837. Each time it was rebuilt in a more modest style.

The Hassidim who came to Safed in 1777 began praying here, and also took part in its reconstruction after it was destroyed again in the Great Earthquake of 1837.

In 1903 it was once again refurbished and transformed into a synagogue by the Ben-Shimon family, who administer it to this day.

I swear synagogues are so unassuming from the exterior that you could walk by one without even realizing it! Immediately inside the front entrance, there was a small gift shop. I thought that very odd considering this is a functioning synagogue. You would never see that in any church or mosque or Buddhist temple.

Entry door to the Synagogue.  Very unassuming front door.

From the gift shop, we passed into another room - relatively small, if you ask me, for a public prayer space. We were standing in the synagogue. On two of the walls, there were floor to ceiling glass cabinet shelves crammed with old books. On another side was bench seating, covered in blue fabric. Blue is the representative color of Judaism. In the center of the room was the podium where the Rabbi stands to lead the congregation in the reading of the Torah.

Uri standing in front of the cabinet where the Torah is stored.

On the Uri pulled aside a blue velvet curtain to reveal a pair of closed wood doors. He opened the doors and on the other side of a metal partition were several Torah scrolls. They were quite beautiful. I'm sure that in a major synagogue, they would be stunning.

The Synagogue's copy of the Torah.

Presumably religious books.  The Synagogue was filled with books.

The Synagogue's walls were lined with cabinets that were stuffed to the gills with books!

From the synagogue, we went to another art gallery.

I love the street signs.  There's something charming about the handwritten script on tiles.

I did a quick look see and then headed back outside to check out the rest of the street which was not far.

The Old City was filled with narrow, pedestrian only streets.

Views of the hills in the distance. 

I soon made it to a small courtyard.

Looking towards the courtyard.

Looking back towards where all the art galleries were located.

Call me weird but I liked the manhole covers though the should be round.

For a commercial strip, the street was actually nice.....very clean.

This case of mezuzahs caught my attention.  I thought they were so pretty.

For us, there was not much to see in Safed. If I ever get to come back, I will avoid the galleries and check out the other sights.

Back in the van, we continued our road trip. From the Galilee region we would be heading into the Golan Heights where we would be spending the rest of the day. The road took us towards Mt. Hermon which if it was a clearer day, we could see snow on top. It's not a tall mountain by any measure but it is the tallest in Israel and for Israelis, place to come skiing in the winter time.

For the past day or so now, we've been driving through a lot of green vegetation. So much for my preconceived notion that Israel is all desert. In fact, this small country has enough arable land that it can essentially grow enough food to sustain its population. There are imported food items of course but the basic needs can all be met within the country.

Along the way, Uri pointed out all the eucalyptus trees which are not indigenous to Israel.  They were imported from Australia when the Israelis wanted to turn the swampy area around the Sea of Galilee into arable land.  It worked and luckily for the Israelis, eucalyptus is not an invasive species otherwise, things might not have turned out so well.

More views of the Sea of Galilee.





Along our ride, we also saw a lot of metal fencing with yellow signs printed with red lettering. The words say it all. The fences mark off areas that still contain live mines from the days of the war with Syria.


There were only 6 of us in the van but Uri still needed to use the microphone to talk.

The clouds looked heavy all day but it never rained.  It was nice to have some cover otherwise, SUNBURN!

See what I mean?  Green.....no desert.

Our next destination was Banias Nature Reserve where the Banias Spring emerges at the foot of Mount Hermon. The spring eventually feeds into the Jordan River.


The region around Banias was first inhabited more than 2300 years ago. The Greeks dedicated the site to Pan, the Greek god who is half goat half man.

Yes, there are ruins at Banias.

In Roman times, King Herod built a temple near the spring, and his son Philip embellished what by then had become a city, naming it Caesarea Philippi.

Near the spring there is a wide stepped path which climbs up to a cave, in which sacrifices were made in the past. Nearby, there are the remnants of a temenos (sacred precinct) dedicated to the god Pan. The precinct includes a temple, courtyards, a grotto and niches for rituals. At the front of the cave there are the remains of a temple built by King Herod. We didn't have any time to explore the park - just a quick stop to take a photo by the water. Next trip I will have to come back to see the temenos as well as the ruins of the Crusader fortifications, towers, walls, citadel and an elaborate gate house.

Banias Spring with Pan's cave on background left with temenos and niches center.

The temenos (sacred precinct) included a temple, courtyards, a grotto and niches for rituals, and was dedicated to Pan.


On the way of Banias, we briefly stopped to look at some ruins.  They're so many ruins in this country!  Archeologists have taken the effort to identify each one.




After Banias, it was lunch time!  Yay!  We would take a quick break before heading off to spend the afternoon at the Golan Heights Winery and Capernaum.  It was a whirlwind morning except for the shopping - that's what you get when you're in a tour group and you have people who want to shop :-(