These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Tzfat Shabbat

Posted on January 20, 2013 by The Director of Digital Media

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From Daniel Shibley's (Fellows '12) blog:


Tzfat (Photo credit: tunnelarmr)

The mystical city of Tzfat, in which I spent Shabbat with my parents, is renowned on numerous levels. Rich in history, Tzfat is one of the holy cities of Judaism. Atop the mountain, blasted by a stiff wind, sits a crusader fortress which lies in ruin but affords fabulous views of Mount Meron to the West and villages of Galilee in the surrounding valleys. The art galleries and old synagogues, including those of R’ Yosef Karo and The Ari z”l, which draw captive audiences from tourists and residents alike. Halls of study are tucked into alleys, along with shops selling trinkets of countless variety. Walking through the narrow streets before Shabbat afforded me spectacular whiffs of chicken soup, challah, roasted vegetable, and other Shabbat fare. Tzfat also attracts a certain self-selecting population of shoe-less kabbalists eager to take dunk in a mikvah (ritual bath) said to have mystical properties. Musicians in the streets strumming guitars croak out melodies, some beautiful, some less so. Standing and watching the sunset as Shabbat began, it becomes very easy to understand the inspiration for the institution of the Psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat, as well R’ Alkabetz’s poem, L’cha Dodi. As I walked the alleys I came within earshot of one synagogue after another, each one in the midst of welcoming the Shabbat Bride through spirited song.

In addition to the historical significance, it is truly the people who make Tzfat more than a destination, but also an unforgettable experience. It was in the dining room of the hotel where the hilarity ensued and the memories were forged. Ten tables were set for parties numbering from two to four, replete with all of the fixings to begin a Shabbat meal, salatim, grape juice with our family name taped to the top, challah rolls, full place settings, including dessert spoons. One by one the other parties were trickling in from their respective synagogues. There was the Satmar Hasid and his wife, the British couple with an entire bottle of Johnny Walker, three Yemini men, the young Chabad couple who took nearly a half hour from their entrance into the room to the beginning of the meal, the four yeshiva boys who ate everything in site, a young Sephardi couple, and a party of three one of whose members did not cease talking for all of Shabbat. And of course, us.

As we were enjoying the sumptuous feast, I was describing to my mother, whose back was to the room, the ongoing scene. One small child fell off his chair onto his face, uncontrolled began as the parents tried to comfort their eldest son, the younger brother continued to eat, apparently unconcerned. Four yeshiva boys provided their own massive loaves of challah, all of which were devoured. Unclear how much Johnny Walker was consumed, or when exactly the young Chabad couple finally began their meal. The Satmar couple complete with streimel and white socks (on the husband), were seated next to me. Every once in a while he would serenade his wife, she joined in from time to time, while he beat out the incorrect rhythm by tapping his white socked foot. At one point as he sung to her, she was busy reading. At least two parties brought their own beverages to supplement the pitchers of ice water, and of course there was the Johnny Walker. One of the Teimani men abruptly began singing at the top of his lungs, he was joined by neither his table mates, nor anybody else in the room. The diners made their way through the multiple courses culminating in the chocolate mousse dessert. One by one they filed back to their rooms to retire for the evening. Fortunately the experience was replayed twice during Shabbat day, except the child managed to stay in his chair for those meals.

On a more serious note, I did enjoy sharing space and time with other Jews whose practices might be slightly different than my own, and than each others. I would surmise that perhaps one of the parties would fall into the “Dati Leumi” category to which I most closely identify in Israel, while the others ranged from black-hat Orthodox to Hasidic. Despite any differences, there was a real sense of kinship in the room as we, at our separate tables, sat down to observe Shabbat together.