Whenever I travel to a new destination I try to take in as much of the atmosphere as possible. As I traveled through many regions in Israel I found particular places that left a stronger impression on me than others. One of these places was Tzfat, also known as Safed, is considered the center of Jewish mysticism and the capital of art within Israel. This city is located in the mountains of the Upper Galilee making it the highest city in Israel. It dates back over 2,000 years, which can be seen physically in the worn down rock of the city’s alleyways. It is one of the four holy cities of Judaism, but stands alone in its strong mystical beliefs. From afar this magnificent city looks like a mountainous dreamland, but as one looks at the details there clear signs of conflict like the aged bullet holes on the exterior of many structures.The history tied to this place is vast and diverse. To begin with during the Middle Ages a modest fortress was built at the highest point of the city by the crusaders which occupied the territory at the time. They even temporary renamed Tzfat the Kingdom of Saphet. Unfortunately the city is known for experiencing the rashness of Mother Nature in the form of catastrophic earthquakes, which in the past have killed thousands. Also the manifestation of brutality during civil war amongst its own citizens has caused uneasiness in the past, but these dilemmas aren’t strong enough to destroy the essence of this city!
Many communities have felt the spiritual nature of this place, but in modern day the most prominent community living within this territory would be the Jews. There were two major waves of immigrants into this territory. The first wave began during the 18th century, which consisted of many Eastern European Jewish immigrants and the second happened after World War II with Western and Northern European Jews. These waves of immigration have caused conflict in the past, but are one of the main reasons for the city’s eccentric mixture of culture and art. The charm of the city is best seen in the century old synagogues and new age art galleries, which are conveniently located around each corner. In fact many synagogues have been so heavily influenced by the arts that they are covered in color and designs! With the combination of religious sight seeing and breathtaking art it makes for a wonderful tourist destination.
What a visitor would find surprising about this ancient city would be the amount of young people sprawling around the streets. Nearly fifty percent of the population is under the age of nineteen years old. Several of these young people belong to the large Kabalistic community. The religion Kabbalah has many dimensions which all deal with a more spiritual takes on Judaism. Many of the customs focus on living in the moment and emphasize stretching the human consciousness through practices like meditation. The religious engagement of the locals makes the setting of the city still and peaceful, but if you are lucky enough to travel to the city during a religious holiday you will see wild festivals!
I have hopes of returning to this wonderful hilltop paradise very soon, but until then from one travel bug to another make a trip there! Trust me you will not regret it!