Mystical Hamlet Modernized

The town of Safed Israel’s highest city at 3,000 feet above sea level seems to reach from its serene Galilee mountaintop up to the heavens. This perch has inspired ancient Jewish mystics as well as new world artists. But as one of Israel’s oldest towns, it is also due for a face-lift.

By: Shuly Kustanowitz

The town of Safed Israel’s highest city at 3,000 feet above sea level seems to reach from its serene Galilee mountaintop up to the heavens. This perch has inspired ancient Jewish mystics as well as new world artists. But as one of Israel’s oldest towns, it is also due for a face-lift.

When rabbis arrived 2,100 years ago to write long-lasting interpretations of biblical laws, the Temple still stood in Jerusalem. They could almost see it from Safed, and could certainly glimpse the distant Sea of Galilee.

Safed’s mystics took the work a step further developing the philosophy of Kabbalah, a biblical-based Hebrew numerology, to reveal a deeper layer of meaning to life and its mysteries. This mysticism sparked the interests of centuries of philosophers and, more recently, Hollywood movie stars such as Madonna.

But historical events disturbed the locale’s tranquility. Throughout the centuries, the Crusaders, Saladin, the Knights Templar, the Mamelukes and the Ottomans conquered it.

Safed grew with Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. An 18th century earthquake drove many away, and it further shrank with the Arab riots of 1929. The town revived with the arrival of survivors from Nazi-dominated Europe and has flourished since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948.

Several ancient synagogues are listed on itineraries because their brightly ornamented decor and architecture reflect two millennia of history. Some burial sites are popular stops. Many visitors go to the resting place of the biblical prophet Hosea, and singles seem to have luck praying for partners at the tomb at Amuka.

Most tourists are drawn to the Artists’ Quarter in the labyrinths of Safed’s old city, which houses more than 50 art studios and eclectic galleries. During the next few years, there are plans to invest heavily in tourism in Safed, according to Aharon Domb, director general of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. The project includes:

" Installing a Ponycular, a new type of electric cable car, for transportation through lanes too narrow for vehicles.

" The development of Safed’s most popular areas, such as the Jewish Quarter and the Artists’ Quarter; the old cemetery; and the Mezuda Garden, where remains of the largest Crusader Fort in the Middle East still stand. Many of the crooked streets, bending lampposts, small synagogues and charming older buildings will be refurbished.

" New hotels and updating of existing ones.

Suggestion: Information on Safed can be found under Tsfat, Zefat, Sefat, Tsafat or even Tsfas.

Call 888-77-ISRAEL or 212-499-5640.

Web site: www.goisrael.com.

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