Part 2- Go Galilee, its near the Sea

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March 2nd 2007
Published: March 2nd 2007
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Part 2...

Day 3- Today we drove to Zfat, in the Galilee. Zfat is one of the holiest cities in Judaism, after Jerusalem and Hebron. It is a beautiful little town on the top of a mountain, and is home to the Jewish mystics of Kabbalah. It also happens to be my most favorite place in all of Israel. You can just feel these special, spiritual, mystical powers flowing all around you. As a very religious city, where Kabbalah was developed in the 16th century, there are dozens of small synagogues, mostly after specific rabbis. We went to a few of the more important ones. First was the Abuhav Synagogue, named for Rabbi Yitzhak Abuhav, a famous rabbi from Spain who lived in the 15th century. Abuhav wanted to make it to Israel before he died, but he didn’t make it. The story goes that after he died, all of his followers/best students had a dream about him telling them to go build a synagogue in Zfat, and what it was supposed to look like, so they came here, and this is his synagogue. The building itself was designed with very specific guidelines, based on a Hebrew “song” talking about the bible (for those of you who are Jewish, you would know this song as who knows 1, I know 1, one is Hashem). The site of this synagogue has been almost completely destroyed a few times, from major earthquakes in history, but the wall with the ark (where the Torah is kept) has never been destroyed. They believe that this is because the Torah inside was written by Abuhav himself, and is therefore blessed and sacred, and protects the ark.

Next was the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue. The ark was built entirely of ceramics, something I had never seen before, and it was beautiful. At the bima, (the center of the synagogue where the person leading the service stands and leads the prayers), on one of the sides, there is a bullet hole. The story goes that a man was standing next to the bima, praying, and bowed down for one of the parts of the prayers, and at the exact moment he was bent over, a bullet whizzed just above him and instead hit the bima. Had he been standing up, the bullet would have hit him directly and he would have died. G-d works in mysterious ways, huh?!

The third synagogue we went to was the Joseph Karo Synagogue. Joseph Karo, a Sephardic Rabbi and scholar (Sephardic means from Spain), wrote a very important book called the Shulchan Aruch, which was basically an “easy guide” to all the laws of Judaism, that were often to complicated for the average person to understand.

We also went to the old cemetery in Zfat, on the side of the mountain, where many famous rabbis and scholars are buried. One of the most important was The Ari, or Rabbi Lurie, of which 2 synagogues are named after him in Zfat. He was a famous Kabbalah rabbi in the 16th century, and had many followers.

Near the cemetery is a mikva. A mikva is a ritual bath for spiritual cleansing and repenting. This particular one was for men only. My friend Ori, and our tour guide Elan really wanted to go, so they went and we waited. When you go in a mikva, you have to get completely naked and go in the bath, in freezing cold water. The water is freezing cold no matter what time of the year. You pray and repent for your sins, and come out with a clean soul. Wouldn’t it be nice if all baths worked so well?

We left Zfat after a few hours of wandering around. Next we went in search of a rabbi’s tomb somewhere in the forest. The forest we drove through was just gorgeous. Luscious green trees covered the hills. Except for the places where the katushya rockets had landed last summer. There were several spots where trees had been burned down from the rockets of the war with Lebanon last summer. So, we finally found the Rabbi Yonatan we were looking for. He is a Tzadik, which many of the other Rabbis I have already mentioned were as well. A Tzadik is a very important Rabbi in the whole of Judaism, not just in his life time. So, Rabbi Yonatan, for some reason I don’t remember, is specially connected to helping find a husband or wife. You go to his tomb, and pray for g-d to send you a husband or wife, with whichever qualities you want. Then you walk around the tomb 7 times (7 is a very significant number in Judaism), which also happens to be the number of times the bride walks around the groom at a Jewish wedding. After your 7 circles, you go light a candle in memorial of Rabbi Yonatan. Me and all my friends did this, so I am expecting a husband any day now! Hehe.

After our fun little detour, we went to Lake Agmon and the Hula Valley. This was a very interesting place. So, many years ago, there was a lake here. The Jewish National Fund, which before Israel became a state, had been purchasing land for Jews and developing, found itself without much to do once Israel actually became a state, so it started working on agricultural things. They decided to drain the lake here, for agriculture. But the agriculture didn’t’ work out very well, and caused thousands of birds who used to pass through during their migration on the way to Africa, stop coming. So, at some point, they realized that they messed up, and started to rebuild the lake. Now, I don’t think its quite what it used to be, it is a lake again, and the birds have returned. Oh boy have they returned. There were thousands and thousands of birds sitting on or around the lake, and beavers too! I swear, you could have been anywhere, at any nature reserve park in the US, but here I was in Israel. It was a beautiful spot, and great to see the birds returning to Israel.

That night, we had our final dinner and party, and our program director even drove up for the night to see us. We had long talks about the program, about the experience, good and bad things. I think our tour guide said it best though. We all went in really different directions on our program, and we all became different people than when we started. And its really true. We all came with a common goal, a common purpose, and the program, and our time living in Israel took us all to different places, on different journeys, and it was really cool to see us all at the end of it. We may not be able to see the change in ourselves, but we could see it in our friends.

Day 4- Our last day was beautiful, sad, and stressful. We left our comfy hotel and drove back to the Galilee, to Tiberias. We first went up Mt Arbel. Mt Arbel overlooks the whole Galilee, Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and Zfat to the north. It was really breathtaking, and a great place to sum up our trip. I say to sum up or trip, but we didn’t really talk about it, it was a feeling of culmination. The sun was finally shining for us and we all lingered there for a long time, not wanting to leave.

Our last stop was the grave of Rambam, otherwise known as Rabbi Moshe Maimonides. Rambam, other than being a brilliant doctor, and doctor to the Sultan in Egypt in the 16th century (I think), also was a brilliant Jewish scholar and wrote the 14 principles(categories) of mitzvot, and the Mishnah Torah, and many other important books. Rambam, didn’t live in Israel, he lived in Egypt. When he died, he had written that he wanted to be buried in Israel, but he didn’t say where. So, they put his body on a camel, once across the border into Israel, and decided that wherever the camel stopped, is where he would be buried. So the camel made it all the way to Tiberias, and the exact spot he stopped is where he is currently buried. It is also the same area where another very famous Rabbi Ben Zakkai had or yeshiva. His story goes, during the time that Jerusalem was being taken over by the Romans (about 68 AD), Zakkai was snuck out of the city in a coffin, so he could continue Judaism. At some point, he met a Roman, and predicted that he would be the next emperor of Rome. Soon afterwards, the Emperor died, and the man became the new Emperor, as Zakkia had predicted. He was given one wish by his new friend, the Emperor, to build a yeshiva, and that his where his body now lies, in Tiberias. Tiberias is also one of the holiest cities in Judaism, after Zfat I think. It’s a great little city because it has both the tourist aspect, since it is on the Lake Kinneret, but has the religious aspect as well. I spent some time there last summer and I really liked it.

Well, after this, we had lunch and got back on the bus and headed home, to move out of our apartment, and for some, to fly back home. It was really sad to say goodbye to my friends who went home, although I’m sure I’ll see them again. The whole 6 months was such a great experience, with an amazing group of people. I know everyone always says that, but we really had a special group. It was small, and intimate, and we got to know each other really well. I am really going to miss these people. Luckily, many have also decided to stay in Israel, or are planning on returning, so I think that they will be in my life for many years to come, and that makes me happy.

This final trip up north was really a great culmination for us, and was important especially for me. The majority of things and places we saw, were news sights to all of, which for our group is a great feat, since most of us have been to Israel several times, and been on group tours many times, which tend to take you to the same places every time. So this was a special trip because we got to see a lot of Israel that we had never seen before. The North is really beautiful, and so different from the rest of the country. I think it also
view from Mt Arbelview from Mt Arbelview from Mt Arbel

view of the Galilee, and Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret)
re-inspired all of us, in loving Israel. For me in particular, I had been wanting to come to the north since I arrived in Israel 8 months ago, and had planned on spending a lot of time there. But, because of the war with Lebanon, which took place all in the north, I was not able to go, and I just hadn’t had the chance to go until now. I was so happy to finally get to the north, and have such a great trip there. My time had finally come full circle, to where it was supposed to have started. Israel is such a tiny country, but it has such dramatic differences, and really almost any kind of physical thing in nature you can thing of, from north to south, and east to west. This was by far my best “trip” in Israel.


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