Sunday, June 12, 2011

Israel Week 9--Literally Searching for a Synagogue in Safed and Tiberias

This weekend we had the opportunity to go on a Tiyul (a mini trip within Israel) to the North, specifically to Rosh Hanikra, Tiberias, and Safed.  We love Jerusalem, but it's nice to enjoy the "nature" part of Israel as well, which this trip enabled us to do.

Rosh Hanikra is one of the most beautiful sites in all of Israel.  It is essentially a grotto, with caves having formed at the bottom of some cliffs over many centuries.  It is at the Northern tip of Israel right onto the Mediterranean Sea.  The contrast of water and cliff creates both incredible beauty and a very steep, scary cable car ride.

Tiberias is one of the four original "holy" cities of Israel, the others being Jerusalem, Safed, and Hebron.  It is also the place where many of the Rabbinic sages lived and wrote the Talmud and the Mishna.  It's also the site of many of Jesus' miracles, so it gets many Christian "pilgrims."  In modern Israel it is a resort town, though more Cape May, New Jersey than St. Barts.  Most travel agents do not recommend it to Americans any more, as it just a little grittier than most Americans are used to.

Nevertheless, Karen and I both love it there.  The highlight was swimming in Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee, where the fresh water feels like silk on your skin.  The town has a great boardwalk type feel, and the kids enjoyed the sound and light show with holograms on the water in the evening.  It's no Disney's World of Color, but it was still lovely. We had a great meal at a restaurant called Avi's, which gets terrific reviews on TripAdvisor.
We visited the graves of some of the important rabbinic sages, including Yohanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiva, and Rambam, who is also known as Maimonides, and is probably the most prolific Jewish scholar of all time. I also took a walk on Shabbat to visit the "traditional" grave of the matriarchs.  It's not Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah, who are buried at the Cave of Hebron, but 6 other Biblical women:  Ziporah (wife of Moses), Yocheved (Mother of Moses), Elisheva (wife of Aaron), Abigal (wife of King David), Bilha, and Zilpa, the two concubines of Jacob.  I put "traditional" in quotations, because here we get into the intersection of Biblical myth and history.

Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon's grave.  The inscription reads "from Moses to Moses there was no one like Moses.
Tomb of Rabbi Akiva
Searching for a Synagogue
On Friday night we drove to Safed to find a place to welcome Kabbalat Shabbat.   We very much wanted to be there on Friday night, because Kabbalat Shabbat (the part of the service that goes from Yedid Nefesh through L'cha Dodi) was invented in Safed in the 16th Century by the Jewish mystics or Kabbalists.  Every Friday after candlelighting they would gather to ecstatically greet Shabbat like a bride.  That mysticism and religious fervor, along with many artists, is still the most prevalent thing about Safed today.  I have been there many times, but never without a tour guide, so we had a very difficult time finding anything.  We had intended to visit both the Ari Synagogue (the synagogue in the name of Rabbi Isaac Luria, who passed down the Kabbalah that we know today) or the Caro Synagogue (the Rabbi who wrote the Shulchan Aruch, the law compendium we still follow today).  Unfortunately, we couldn't find either.  We did enter the Bratslaver synagogue (famous for the great Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, one of the greatest storytellers in Jewish history), and settled into the Beirav synagogue.  While the Beirav synagogue building is nothing special, built in the 1800's and looking like a run down schoolroom, they are famous for having the most spirited Jewish services in the world.   Not much spirit on the women's side, unfortunately, but the men's side was a party.  Dancing and singing and jumping everywhere you turn at every prayer.  It was part spiritual ecstasy, part hora, part fraternity party.  I had a great time dancing with Micah, Jonah, and a bunch of happy strangers I will never see again.

The next morning we searched for a synagogue in Tiberias.  We started at the Great Synagogue of Tiberias, which is a Rav Cook synagogue.  Rav Cook was the first Chief Rabbi of Israel and one of the very few Orthodox rabbis who was a Zionist early on.  The place was very Israeli and had some vibrancy to it.  We probably should have stayed, but we were too late to find a seat.  We next tried the Orbach Shul, known as the Shtieblach.  There are a few different minyans going on at once there in different study rooms.  There were no seats in any of them, and the davening was almost entirely silent.  We finally made our way to a Chabad synagogue, where they had seats, but unlike most Chabad houses, very little joy.  I had an Aliyah which I tried to mumble as fast as possible in imitation of the other Aliyot.  It was still a little too audible. I did enjoy the sermon, however, which was about the menorah in the parasha Beha'alotecha, and how every tribe leader had to help light it, not just the High Priest.  All of us, in the Jewish community, need to follow their example and help to light our own souls, not just rely on our leaders.  I liked the message, but I mostly liked it  because I could understand it even though it was all in Hebrew.  The American accent and simple Hebrew of the Chabad Rabbi helped.  Plus, if it's about the Torah portion, I usually know most of the words already and what they are likely to say.  This is much easier for me to understand than a simple news broadcast.

Wine of the Week--2008 Recanati Cabernet
Only about a 73.  Pretty good black cherry flavor, but it had a hint of carbonation in it and not enough balance of wood, which I prefer in a Cabernet.  May just need to age a little more, but not one of the better wines I've had here.

1 comment:

  1. interesting shul searching! thanks for sharing.