Shabbat in Zefat with Ascent
I used a weekend break in March during my year of study at the University of Haifa to spend a fascinating Shabbat in Zefat (Safed), a holy city in the north of Israel that is home to a vibrant Hasidic community (for more information on Zefat, see my previous blog entry). The Hasidim, who can be easily identified by their distinctive garb, are ultra-Orthodox Jews who emphasize Jewish spirituality and mysticism, as well as rabbinic scholarship. Along with two dozen overseas students from the University of Haifa, I experienced Shabbat Hasidic-style through a Shabbat hospitality program at the Ascent Visitors' Center and Hostel in Zefat.
Zefat is one of the holy Jewish cities in Israel. During the 16th century, after the Jews were expelled from Spain, Zefat became home to many revered Jewish philosophers and theologians. Zefat is also the birthplace of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. The ancient town is home mainly to ultra-Orthodox Jews and artists. There are many beautiful synagogues in Zefat, and cars cannot drive down the narrow cobbled streets. I wish I could have taken photos of some of the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva boys since they are fascinating looking with their identical school uniforms and long sidelocks. But the ultra-Orthodox do not appreciate being photographed by tourists, and I can understand why.
On Shabbat, observant Orthodox Jews do not work, write, turn on/off electricity,
use transportation, bathe, touch money, carry heavy objects, rip things, etc.
On Friday mornings and afternoons, in preparation for Shabbat, people busily
shop, cook, decide which lights/appliances to leave on, phone family and friends
to wish them good Shabbos, and even pre-rip toilet paper. I can't say I was
such a fan of every aspect of Shabbat observance, but it felt great to turn
off my cell phone, put aside my work, and unwind from the week.
I walked with four other students to our assigned destination, and when our
hosts answered the door I assumed there must be other families in attendance,
given all the children darting around the room. But I was wrong; our hosts had
seven (going on eight) children under the age of thirteen, and it took me several
minutes actually to count them all since they kept appearing, disappearing,
and reappearing in rapid succession.