TL-45-103/79 Update 3

Wednesday, we gathered together for our early breakfast as a roaming community, then set out under clear skies for Tzfat, the mystical city tucked into a steep hillside. Our first stop was an errand run along a business street looking out across the valley, then we descended on foot together to visit Avraham Loewenthal’s contemporary gallery of his kabbalistic art. In the United States, cultural forces are always hard at work diluting and eroding our connection to our Jewish identity, and Avraham told us about his own journey from a secular Israeli Jew to becoming an observant Israeli Jew filled with awe. His explanation of what Kabbalah is touched many of us, moving so many in our group to tears.

After several hours, we walked to the Ari Sephardic Synagogue, an ancient building at least 500 years old. Along the way, we stopped by the border between the traditional Jewish and Muslim quarters of the city, and learned about Tzfat’s immense geopolitical importance, too. When we finally entered the synagogue, we were transported back to spiritual learnings. While learning about the lofty spiritual heights of Judaism, we had the chance to sit on the well-worn benches, a chance to reflect on the sometimes mundane ways that synagogues operate despite being centers for worship. We sat and learned under the watchful gaze of a Persian Jewish man from Tehran.

Up next was Ascent, a hostel and education center. We walked up winding stairs to a patio with sweeping views of the city and the natural areas beyond. After an information session about Judaism and Jewish life, we were given several hours to explore the wonder of Tzfat. In several small groups, we walked around the city and enjoyed delicious Yemeni food, bought some Judaica, and admired the eclectic mix of street art, ancient architecture, and modern life. We crossed paths with a joyous Bar Mitzvah, many deeply observant families, live music, and all the other joys that make Tzfat one of the beating hearts of the Jewish world. By the end, we gathered together again, and departed for our next stop: Amiad Winery. After a delicious tasting (and collecting a few bottled to bring home) we had dinner back at Kibbutz Afik, and prepared for a seminar.

The evening seminar was led by Eyal Dror. After days of non-stop activities, we sat for hours with full attention as LTC Eyal Dror explained about the political situation through the lens of his immense career. From working with the Palestinian Authority through the State of Israel’s COGAT department, to bringing Syrian civilians to Israel for medical treatment, his career had focused in unique and interesting ways on an ultimate goal of coexistence. We brought a range of questions to the seminar, and he was able to offer clear and insightful answers.