“For it is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20)
The plane ride to Tel Aviv may have felt like an eternity, but immediately upon arrival, the difficult journey no longer mattered. All that mattered was what adventures lie before us here in Israel over the next two weeks. We were welcomed right away with open arms by our tour educator (Yoni), madricha (Ariella), and security guard/medic (Gefen). There was even a brief reunion of old friends, as Shira M. greeted her former CDS classmates at the airport to welcome them to Israel.
Even after more than a full day of travel, there was still energy to sing the CDS Class of 2017 graduation song on the bus ride …
We headed north to Tverya, one of Judaism’s four Holy Cities and our home for the next few days. According to the Kabbalah, Tverya is represented by the natural element of water, perched overlooking the western shore of the Kinneret, and the city is deeply connected to Torah. Our tour educator Yoni the shared the parable that the Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva relayed when warned by the Romans that his study of Torah was endangering his life. It goes something like this: A fox walking along a riverbank offered to save a fish trying to escape a net. “In that case,” said the fox, “Come and live on dry land together with me and I will protect you.” “You are not clever, but foolish,” the fish replied. “If we are in danger here in the water where we live, how much more so would we be in danger on dry land, where we would surely die?” Like a fish needs water, Rabbi Akiba (and Yoni) explained, the Jewish people need the Torah to survive.
Before our delicious Israeli breakfast today, we celebrated Rosh Chodesh during morning tefillah with a gorgeous Sephardic Torah encased in decorated wood.
From our homebase in Tverya, our bus then made the steep climb further north to the Holy City of Tzfat, which is represented by the natural element of ruach (wind or spirit). Yoni explained that like a parent’s love, just because we can’t experience something directly with our senses, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. He encouraged us to keep an open mind to the unseen as we visited the birthplace of Jewish mysticism.
We then visited Ascent of Safet, where we braided and decorated our own challot to get ready for Shabbat in the city where the Kabbalat Shabbat service was written.
As our challah baked, we enjoyed our first (of what will be many more to come) falafel and shawarma lunches …
… and did some jewelry and souvenir shopping along Gallery Street.
We also visited the late 16th-century Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue, which was built in memory of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572), who was known as the “Ari.” A Hebrew inscription above the entrance reads: “How awe-inspiring is this place, the synagogue of the Ari of blessed memory.” During Friday night services, the Ari was accustomed to leave the synagogue with his disciples to walk to a nearby field to welcome the Shabbat. This tradition is still echoed in the singing of Lecha Dodi, when worshippers turn toward the entrance of the synagogue to “greet” Shabbat.
We then shared a powerful moment welcoming Shabbat by singing Lecha Dodi together, deep inside a pitch-black ancient cistern built by the Crusaders, where every sound you make is magnified and reverberates inside the stone walls. Even though you couldn’t see it, you could feel the ruach here in Tzfat.
The CDS Class of 2017 wishes you Shabbat Shalom from Israel!