Following yesterday’s “nature walk” (an Israeli idiom for “hike”), we were anxious to see what this morning’s hike would bring. As we drove up the winding, narrow road to Mt. Meron, Israel’s second-highest peak, we could see the Kinneret and the other side of the Hula Valley that we saw yesterday from Mt. Bental. The views were amazing from atop Mt. Meron—we could see from Mt. Hermon to Lebanon all the way to Haifa. Although the weather was colder and windier than yesterday, the hike was another really nice chance to see the unparalleled panoramic views of the north.
We drove to Tsfat, the blue city of Kabbalah built into the northern hills. I was really looking forward to it because I remembered liking the mystical symbolism and colorful artwork that decorated the city from my previous trip to Israel. As we walked up a commercial street, it was interesting to watch the different types of people who live in the city, from the very religious to the completely secular to the intensely spiritual. The spirituality and mysticism that Tsfat is known for seeped out from every blue-colored crack and juncture in the sidewalk and emanated from every blue window and door in the city. Raz spoke to us about the history and basics of Kabbalah, which sparked interesting discussions about Jewish spirituality, faith, and superstition, as well as how they are expressed in synagogue architecture. We then went inside an Ashkenazic synagogue and a Sephardic synagogue, which were beautiful and elaborately decorated. Both had a raised bimah in the middle of the sanctuary, similar signs on the walls (“no talking during praying and Torah reading!”), and intricate decorations, but the symbols, images, and overall atmosphere were different. After Raz explained the meanings of some common symbols of Tsfat, such as the color blue and the chamsa, we paid a visit (and some shekels) to a “mysical art gallery”. Having never been to a mysical art gallery before, I didn’t know what to expect, especially after Raz reminded us before entering not to judge people based on their appearance or beliefs. We sat on pillows on the floor and listened as Avraham, the gallery owner and artist, explained how he, an American from outside Detroit, ended up as a Kabbalah artist in Tsfat. He spoke with an intense conviction about his spiritual journey from being disinterested in Judaism to studying Kabbalah for 15 years and expressing those beliefs in his artwork. Although the multi-layered connections to Kabbalah in his artwork were fascinating, it was difficult to relate to him because he spoke with such pure faith, spirituality, and happiness that I (and probably most of us) don’t have. The tension between believing in the spiritual and mystical and doing rituals and experiencing Judaism in a “traditional” way was both strong and confusing because both coexist in Tsfat, yet the former is a strange, abstract way of looking at Judaism while the other is a more familiar, concrete approach. If I could understand and accept the mysticism and purity of faith that people in Tsfat seem to have, I could see myself living in this quaint community of blue cobblestone streets and blue cobblestone houses!
Before going back to the hotel, we made a surprise stop for a wine tasting at a kibbutz specializing in wines and liquors. As my first official wine tasting, it was a fun experience (and the flavored liqueurs were really good!) and a great way to end a day of natural, spiritual, and architectural beauty. Although I am sad to leave the North, I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the country and to meeting our Israeli friends!