Four holy cities in Israel, each associated with their own element. Jerusalem: fire. Hebron: earth. Tverya: water. Tzfat: air. Today we experienced two of these main centers of ancient Jewish life, starting with our visit to Aqua Kef (literally, water fun). Of course the attraction didn’t exist when the Jerusalem Talmud was composed in Tiberias and when an influx of rabbis established the city as a center for Jewish learning along the Sea of Galilee in the 18th century. But this inflatable water park on the Kinneret sure lived up to its name, providing an hour of pure unbridled joy and relief from the heat. The photos say it all!
From Aqua Kef, our bus then made the steep climb further north to the Holy City of Tzfat, which our tour guide Eitan taught us is represented by the natural element of ruach (wind or spirit). He encouraged us to keep an open mind and heart and let the spirit of Tzfat enter us as we explored the birthplace of Jewish mysticism.
To get ready for Shabbat, we baked challah at Livnot U’Lehibanot, a nonprofit organization that provides Israel experience programs. We first performed the mitzvah of Hafrashat Challah, taking time for personal prayer and reflection as we prepare for our day of rest. Through a story about Elijah the Prophet, we learned about how our purpose in life is to be a light unto others and that we should aim to fulfill the miracles that we seek by pouring out love. We rolled and shaped our challah dough, topped it with cinnamon, paprika, za’atar, sesame, and other spices, and put it to bake in a 500-year-old oven restored to working use in a 16th-century ruin at the Livnot National Heritage Site in Tzfat’s ancient Jewish quarter.
After baking challah, we then wandered through narrow alleyways lined with artists’ studios, galleries, and workshops and enjoyed a falafel and shawarma lunch. We took in some of the history of Tzfat, learning about why so much is painted blue in the city and climbing the narrow stairs where Safta Yocheved used to sit with a cup of tea and coffee and biscuits for years waiting to feed the Messiah on his journey to Jerusalem.
Shabbat is coming, and we will use the next 24 hours to rest, reflect, and connect (as well as do a little swimming!). We leave you with our warm wishes for a Shabbat Shalom and will be in touch again after the holiday.