Sof sof (finally), I’m sitting to write down my Shabbat in Tzfat with my friend Tyler. I haven’t had much time to write for the past couple of weeks, for some reasons. All of my intentions of blogging have been for naught. So I’m hoping to take this step-by-step in updating everyone (myself included) on what I’ve actually been up to. I may miss many key details.
The first Shabbat in December, Tyler and I took a trip up to Tzfat. It turns out that some of our friends had also been planning on going that weekend, but Hebrew U had a make-up Ulpan class Friday morning, so we were the only ones that went. We went to the Central Bus Station (tachana merkazit) to buy our tickets, at which point we found out that we had to pay on the bus, and then we found out that the platform is actually outside by Binyanei Ha-Uma, so going into the station altogether was a waste. Whatever, we caught a bus, paid for it, and over the course of both bus rides I wrote my D’var Torah for International Convention. Good stuff. The bus driver dropped us off at some place he claimed to be a good place to get off, so we did, and we got some schnitzel. It was 19 ₪, I think, which is cheaper than Jerusalem. And it was good – I was just lacking BBQ sauce, really.
One of the first things I noticed about Tzfat is that it’s a quiet city (at least relatively speaking). I live on an extremely busy street corner in Jerusalem, and I constantly hear cars, car HORNS, and other craziness, but you don’t hear the traffic and other madness in Tzfat. All Friday afternoon I did not hear it. When we arrived at our destination, the other thing to point out is the gorgeous view of nature that Tzfat offers. We could see Mount Meron and lots in between and it was beautiful.
The place we stayed at is called ASCENT of Tzfat. It’s a Chabad-run operation that consists of a youth hostel with classes going on all week and Shabbat activities. A Shabbat there – for room and meals – cost 160 ₪. We arrived and checked-in and accommodations were ok – they only had one key for our room, though two other random people were sharing our room, and they didn’t exactly have linens ready for us. But that was fine; we locked our valuables in a safe and got our linens.
We then set out for the historical Ari mikveh, while we had some time to kill before Shabbat. We didn’t exactly know where we were going – we got some general directions, and as we went along, we kept getting directions from random people. We didn’t go the most direct way, but that was cool because we walked through some random parts of the Old City and the neighborhoods there. In other words, when you’re not in a tremendous rush and you’re walking in an interesting place, getting lost has a real positive aspect to it. We kept walking downwards, the city tranquil as can be. We walked past one house where Yaakov Shwekey music was played, assumedly in the spirit of Shabbat. Right by the mikveh lies an old cemetery; I’m not sure if I’ve seen a cemetery on such a mountain before.
I’m not going to into graphic detail about what the mikveh was like, for your sake and mine as well. The water was freezing, however, and I really couldn’t breathe. And as if three dunks weren’t huge enough of a struggle, someone pointed out that my hand was out (thus my entire body wasn’t in the mikveh) so I had to do it again. Worst of all, Tyler and I didn’t think about bringing towels, and Tzfat in general was pretty cold. But we were troopers about it, I guess.
I was in a fairly explorative mood that weekend and was just happy to walk around the city wherever. On the way back we stopped at a military cemetery, which was actually connected to the old cemetery there. Also as we walked, I looked for any opportunity to find a scenic view of the land. A significant part of my traveling that weekend was seeing more of the Land of Israel, and not only being in a different city but also what I could see from there and on the bus ride gave me the opportunity to see the land itself, which in the north is beautiful.
When we returned to Ascent, we found ourselves in a class with the head rabbi of Ascent, who was discussing Shabbat in the liturgy or something like that. I remember him being an engaging educator (as are most Chabad rabbis, not to stereotype or anything like that), and the main thing I remembered was him talking about each of the three Amidah prayers on Shabbat and how each one has a specific reference to redemption according to the Abudraham – the first one, Creation that took place on Friday, the second one about the giving of the Torah, which took place on Shabbat, and the third one talks about redemption in the future. I’m not sure if I got the upshot of that totally right. And then it was time for Shabbat.
Kabbalat Shabbat (“mystical” Kabbalat Shabbat) took place at Ascent – it wasn’t far off from anything I’ve seen before - a little bit of Carlebach and dancing, not much more than that. I guess Conservative Jews do some mystical stuff as well. Of course, the rabbis get into the dancing because they’re pretty much high on life. Overall, though, the Tefillah was low-key because there wasn’t a huge number of men, at least, and a majority I think are not extremely religious.
I should also back up and explain a general theme of the weekend – Yud-Tet (tes) Kislev. The Alter Rebbe was released from prison on that day in the Jewish calendar, and it has essentially turned into a Yom Tov for Chabadniks. When they were singing “v’samachta b’chagecha,” I thought they were just singing that since they’re generally high on life and maybe see every day as a holiday. But this day is actually huge for them. All weekend, there was hype and talk about the importance of Yud-Tet Kislev and Chassidut, and Sunday night I actually attended an event at my friend’s yeshiva in Jerusalem celebrating this day.
For dinner Friday night, we were set-up with a host family. Our host was Doron, who I believe is a rabbi at Ascent, and he had a few family friends over as well. I knew exactly which apartment was his when we entered the building – the door exhibited a “Yechi Hamelech Hamashiach” sticker (long live the king the Messiah), with the picture of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe on it. The apartment was filled with pictures of Schneerson. All of the male adults there wore yellow “mashiach” pins on their jackets, and they all wore kippot that said “long live our master, teacher, and rabbi the king Messiah forever.” In addition, after Eishet Chayil and Shir Hama’alot, they would sing this line to whichever tune they had just sung. The other major Rebbe reference I remember from the night was that they’d pour some wine into a flask that had some label about the Rebbe on it, and then for each person making Kiddush, some of that wine would be poured into the rest of the Kiddush wine. Food wasn’t necessarily amazing, but it was a lively dinner. Very nice people, lots of good spirits, and lots of talk about miracles and Chassidut. On the way home, we got lost, but there’s not too much more to say there… some guy with family from Montana (now Israeli) helped us find our way home.
Shabbat morning, Tyler and I went to the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue in the Old City to start off. I can’t remember the entire story behind it, but tourists often visit it and I believe it is dedicated to the Ari, who is the father of Kabbalah as we know it today. The services there were nice, nothing too different from what I’ve experienced in Israel before. After the Haftarah, we went schul hopping. First we stopped in the Kosov schul (I later learned its significance), but they were just finishing the Torah reading, so we only stayed there for a few minutes. We found a shteeble not too far where they were doing Musaf, so we participated with them for kedusha. The prayer intensity was high, and they did some nice singing. We walked around a bit and returned to the Kosov schul for Musaf. Afterwards, as we were walking back, we heard some crazy Carlebach action happening above the Ari synagogue, so we followed the sound to find a Tzfat Hesder Yeshiva doing Musaf, so we joined them for Musaf as well. It was jammed packed, and the spirit in the Beit Midrash was extremely lively and exuberant. After singing Anim Zemirot, they were singing the niggun dancing around the bimah, and we joined them. We went back, made Kiddush (I was extremely hungry), and I think we attended a class before lunch. The conversation at Kiddush going on around us revolved around marriage and this man in his thirties that divorced ten years ago and has enjoyed having those years to himself, and these frum ladies were trying to convince him the importance of marriage and how it’s the best thing… lol at that scene.
We napped, did Mincha, and then we had a tour of the Old City of Tzfat. We heard some interesting legends and visited schuls. The story of the Kosov schul I mentioned above was that this group of Chassidim was the only of group of survivors of the Kosov community (which was exterminated during the Holocaust) because of a dream that led 50 families to Tzfat 50 years before the Holocaust. That was neat. There was a 12-year-old on the tour with us that believed every single legend that was told about the origins of synagogues or Tzfat-related, and he asked us if we believe them, too. Tyler couldn’t stand how he could believe all of these things for real; I decided not to take interest in a 12-year-old who’s willing to be brainwashed. Nice that he has faith, but hopefully he’ll learn later in life to take everything with a grain of salt. There was also a man on the tour who thought it was appropriate to use a cellphone to check the time… won’t go into that much. The tour was nice, and I enjoyed seeing the city from a slightly different perspective than most tour guides (that being that our guide is a Chassid himself, so he has a different perspective).
Shabbat ended, and we caught a bus to Jerusalem. The Egged website indicated 7 and 7:30 buses, so we thought there were two busses, but the lines at the bus station were madness. Hundreds of people needed busses to Jerusalem, so it actually turns out that there were busses every 2 minutes. Tyler and I pushed our way through and an American immigrant helped us get on; he commented to his friend on the phone “I just helped some American nubes get on the bus.” And then we got to Jerusalem and had the best pizza, two slices being 13₪.
This is probably my longest blog post ever. I apologize. What I’ll just say was that it was interesting to experience a mystical side of Israel, people in a totally different mentality, and I’m actually intrigued to explore Chassidut and apply it to my current way of life. This is just one example of the value of seeing a world different from your own.