Tzfat is literally covered in spirituality. A tour of the city would be a wonderful addition to any visit to the Galilee.
One could say that Tzfat (or Safed) – a picturesque town in the Upper Galilee – is like Jerusalem with her head in the clouds. Like Jerusalem, every stone in Tzfat has its fascinating history, every alleyway has hidden secrets waiting to be revealed, and every person has a unique story to tell. But while Jerusalem offers intense views of places featured in Biblical “end of days” scenarios, Tzfat’s view over Mt Meron and the other wave-like mountains of the Galilee (perhaps explains the name, “Galilee,” like “wave” or “gal” in Hebrew), are as calming as gazing at the sea itself.
Tzfat is literally covered in spirituality. Many doors, walls and railings are painted blue, which could be nicknamed “G-d’s color.” The Talmud tells us that “Blue (techelet) is the color of the sea, which resembles the heavens, which resembles the Divine Throne (kisei hakavod)” (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 17). Visitors to Tzfat will enjoy the large number of exquisite synagogues, one of which has an over 650-year-old Torah scroll, which is still fitting (kosher) for use. Many of these synagogues bear names of the great Rabbis of Tzfat of the 16th century, who settled here following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, such as Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Ari HaKadosh, Rabbi Yaakov Beirav and others. Their teachings and writings comforted and strengthened the Jewish people following the upheaval in the Jewish world, and continue to inform and inspire people today.
Many traditions still observed by Jewish communities around the world were started in those days in Tzfat (known as the Golden Age), such as the Kabbalat Shabbat service, which is comprised of songs and Psalms to welcome in the Sabbath on Friday night. Lecha Dodi, one of the most well-known Sabbath hymns, written by Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz, brings together Biblical verses and Jewish traditions connected to the Sabbath, Jerusalem, and the Mashiach (Messiah).
Art galleries of many types – modern Israeli, Kabbalistic, Judaica, handmade jewelry and crafts – adorn the cobblestone streets of the Old City of Tzfat. Make sure to set aside a few hours for browsing the galleries and studios and meeting artists who would be happy to share with visitors about the inspiration for their work or teach about glass blowing, pottery, micro calligraphy, candle sculptures and other unique styles and techniques.
During the War of Independence in 1948, Tzfat was known as a place where members of the three different pre-Israeli army (IDF) fighters – the Hagana, Etzel/Irgun and Lechi – served together in joint patrols. Perhaps due to the peaceful mountain air or the wise leadership of Tzfat’s Chief Rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, Tzfat is known until today as a place that is exemplary in the harmonious way people there relate to one another.
Often, residents of Tzfat will take it upon themselves to welcome visitors and share deep Torah insights with them. However, Tzfat has an official Tourist Information Center run by an organization called Livnot U’Lehibanot that is a must-see. Livnot U’Lehibanot (literally, “to build and be built”) has been renovating historic Tzfat and doing other social service projects since 1980. Thousands of young Jews have come to explore their Jewish heritage through their programs. In 2011, Livnot’s property was declared a National Heritage site by the Israeli government, and they have plans to develop a visitor center to include actors and musicians set in the 700-square-meter excavations from the Golden Age of Tzfat.
A tour of Tzfat would be a wonderful addition to any visit to the Galilee.
By: Leah Bowman, Licensed Tour Guide