Let’s Go Tzfat/Safed!

“Messiah’s Alley” in the old city of Tzfat.


The city of turquoise, the Rabbi Moshe Alsheich synagogue

We heard more English spoken in the holy city of Tzfat than we did Hebrew. Tzfat is the hippie hang-out of Israel, home to spiritual seekers, mystics, artists, and  holy warriors awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, whom legend has it, will pass through Tzfat on the way to Jerusalem!

A view from Tzfat. The yellow flags hanging from the building on the left read “Mashiach” (Messiah)

For us, our bodies had to be fed before our souls, so our first stop was the vegetarian Elements Cafe, owned by Zev Padway, an old Berkeley friend of our friend Nancy’s. The dahl and veggie burgers were delicious! Zev and I played Jewish geography (when I lived in Santa Cruz, CA, I was a sometimes-visitor to the hippie Jewish community in Berkeley), and he gave us some great tips for our visit to the Hula Valley tomorrow.

With Zev Padway in Elements Cafe

Tzfat was already a richly creative and mystical Jewish community when Rabbi Isaac Luria (the “Ari”) — considered the father of contemporary kabbalah — settled there in the late 16th century. Joseph Caro (author of the Shulchan Arukh), Shlomo Alkabetz (author of  the hymn“Lecha Dodi”), Elazar Azikri (author of the hymn“Yedid Nefesh”), and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (best-known for his kabbalistic Mussar text Tomer Devorah) were among those who lived there. The Jewish tradition of Kabbalat Shabbat with its psalms and the singing of “Lecha Dodi” was born in Tzfat. (A great article about this history by Noam Zion of the Hartman Institute can be found here.)

So in light of this Jewish mystical history, I wasn’t surprised to see this stained glass rendition of the mystical “tree of life” just hanging out on a building, not even a synagogue as far as I could tell.

Mystical tree of life depicting God’s ten emanations/sefirot

Of course, we visited the Ari’s synagogue.

Side view of the ark in the Ari Synagogue

And the stunning Abuhav synagogue.

The Abuhov Synagogue from the women’s balcony. There were 3 arks!

Painted ceiling in Abuhav Synagogue

The synagogue of Rabbi Avraham Dov Auerbach of Avrush. In Europe he was a student of the Hasidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev.

Sent on the recommendation of our mutual artist friends Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz, we visited the studio of mystical artist David Friedman, with his wife Miriam. It turns out that I own one of his pieces of art and hadn’t realized its provenance until I saw it in his studio!

David Friedman’s studio. I have a small version of his Tree of Life that appears both to the left of the door and in the foreground.

Our day in the lofty heavens ended with a parking ticket here on earth.

And so it is — the spiritual life can be so ephemeral and hard to maintain. Even driving in Israel (today was my first time ever) was a sort of gauntlet of holding the temptation of the spiritual landscape in its proper place while trying to keep my eyes on the road. How to balance the heavenly and the earthly is the eternal challenge.


2 thoughts on “Let’s Go Tzfat/Safed!

  1. Love the photo of the building with the mortar between stones painted sapphire blue. So beautiful! I need to go spend time in Tzfat to get inspired!

    I shared the image of the “Shechinah Tree of Life” (my name for it), with yud-hey-vav-hey superimposed, with my Kabbalah study group. We have been looking at the more traditional versions of this graphic. Everyone was struck by David Friedman’s feminist interpretation, making the human form visible behind the letters. A couple said it helped them understand the symbolism better. So thank you from all of us for sharing your experiences. I totally understand why you own this print.

    Keep traveling — and sharing your thoughts and images………..

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