Last weekend I was ready for a break from J’lem, so I put myself on a bus to Tzfat, a town in the north. (It’s also spelled Safed, Tzfad, and all sorts of other interesting ways.) This is, for anybody out there without the background, where many of the major Kabbalists wound up doing their thing. Yosef Karo, Yizhak Luria (AKA the Ari), Moshe Cordovero and a lot of other guys got on a pretty high madraga (level) back in the day–of the four holy cities, it’s the one associated with air. Trippy, dude.
Today it feels sort of like a cross between Mea Sharim and Berkeley. A lot of people who do their religion straight up, no chaser, and a lot of people who are, like, really into the, like, amazing spiritual elevation. If you know what I mean. There’s a great health food store right in the middle of the Old City.
The city has this breathtaking view of the green green hills surrounding it. No wonder some of the most beautiful post-Biblical pieces of liturgy were written here. (Okay, not that you’d know it from those translations. Trust me, or go check the Hebrew.)
Evidently the Ari actually attended in the Sephardi “Ari synagogue”. The Ashkenazi one was, somewhat ironically, built on top of fields/forests in which he was said to have prayed. Nonetheless, it’s beautiful inside. This is the ark, where the Torah is kept:
There’s an artist’s colony/quarter, which was the source of many adventures for me that weekend. Lots of folks just have open studios and you can wander in, see their stuff, buy something if you’re so inclined. I met one guy there and, while chatting about his work, he said to me, “My friend is getting married in an hour, you wanna come?” So I wound up at this crazy Hippie Hasid wedding–picture guys that you might see at a Phish concert, except with peyos (sidecurls), big beards, and a lot of Talmud talk. Picture girls wearing multiple skirts (one peeking out from under the other) and flowy scarves. With the hundreds of people outside in the black Tzfat night singing niggunim (flowing, trancelike melodies) and sweet wedding songs, it was, at moments, really powerful. Yet as it was a pretty frum (traditional) crowd, and there was a lot of gender stuff that I did not like, which definitely detracted from the impact for me. I am glad that I am not part of that world. I’m glad I get to have my Judaism with all of the God but some extra heapings of modernity.
When my artist friend asked what I was learning in Jerusalem (assuming I was at a standard girls’ yeshiva, like the ones a lot of the wedding guests attend–though they were 18 and I sure ain’t), and I told him Talmud, he laughed. Girls don’t learn Talmud.
I spent Shabbat with another artist couple and their friends who were sort of part of the same universe. Some really nice people. Ultimately so not my scene.
Anyway, back to the artist’s quarter. There are the famous “Safed candles”, which were a lot more fun than I thought they’d be. In addition to the amazing Havdallah candles (candles used for a specific ritual) like this:
they had some crazy wax sculptures that both impressed in execution (I’m not including the wax chess set here) and amused in their, um, relevance to Tzfat life:
I didn’t get as many pictures of the “real” art, or the other synagogues, or the wedding, or just the feel of the town, but it was lovely to get away and equally lovely to come home and get to wear jeans and shirts in which my elbows were revealed. I’m really sleepy now, so maybe I should have bought this cup, after all. If only this were really true of my coffee.*
I mean, like, dude.
*”Ain Sof” is arguably the most important Kabbalistic name of God. It literally means, “No End,” ie endless/limitless.