Ascent Shabbat Experience


The pinnacle of the ASCENT week is its Shabbat Getaway Weekend. The normal Shabbat experience begins with an heart-pounding workshop called "A Mystical Guide to Shabbat Dynamics," conducted by Ascent's executive director, Rabbi Shaul Leiter.

Some of the men then visit the ancient Ari Mikveh. This was the personal ritual immersion pool used regularly by Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 16th Century Kabbalist, who is considered by all to be one of the greatest mystics who ever lived. The mikvah is built into a cave at the side of a mountain just a few blocks from the ASCENT complex. Only the courageous brave the icy cold spring-fed waters. But all who take the plunge claim it was worth it, for it is said that whoever immerses in the Ari Mikvah will attain great spiritual heights during his lifetime. (There are a few other local sites that reputedly have the ability to impact on the individual. But these will have to wait until you visit...)

As time honored as the dip in the Ari Mikvah is for the men, it doesn't hold a candle to this observance of the women. Shabbat candle-lighting dates back to Sarah the first of the matriarchs of the Jewish people nearly 4,000 years ago. The Shabbat is mystically likened to a Queen, and as the candles are lit 30 minutes prior to the spectacular Galilean sunset taking place outside the large picture window, a timeless sense of light and peace fills Ascent's conference room. Many of the women are experiencing Shabbat for the first time.

Some Friday mornings, time permitting, both male and female visitors actively participate in a challah-baking workshop. Then everyone has a great present to bring to their host families on Shabbat.

After dark and a "hands on" visit to some of Tsfat's famous ancient synagogues, the group sets out to meet their evening hosts. The trek through the clear mountain air, under the starry Galilean night sky, is breathtaking. Visitors are welcomed into the homes of local Zefat residents for one of two of the Shabbat meals, affording a mutually enlightening experience for family and guest. It is a tribute to the religious community that it can play host to so many diverse, primarily non-religious strangers every week. Nearly two hundred families accept guests on a regular basis.

The Third Meal is celebrated together as a group, at Ascent, with the one-and-only "Big Mo," accompanied by lively singing and stimulating discussions. After the sun dips down behind Mt. Meron and the light drains from the sky, everyone climbs up to the roof and its panoramic view of mountains and valleys for the Havdalah ceremony marking the end of the Holy day.

On Saturday night, reluctant to relinquish the Shabbat spirit, everyone gathers for "King David's Table." Sure, it may be that no one is really hungry again, but the main attractions are not the food and hot drink. Instead, following hallowed traditions, all present eagerly attend to the mesmerizing stories told by Ascent co-founder Yerachmiel Tilles, and the songs and tunes serenaded by one group or another of modern Tsfat's astonishingly large number of talented Jewish musicians and vocalists.

It is a Kabbalistic teaching that every Jew receives an additional soul at the time of the entrance of Shabbat, which remains with each person throughout the holy day. In Tsfat, at Ascent, on Shabbat, you don't have to believe this; you can feel it!

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