Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shabbat in Safed

Obama sucks, the Druze will stab you in the back and though army service is for sinners, it is a crying shame the IDF does not get rid of all the Arabs. So I was told by the Jewish family who shared their shabbat lunch with me this past weekend in Zfat. Putting up with their racist harangue was not easy, especially as it tarnished what otherwise was a commendable display of shabbat hospitality. I did my best to keep silent out of respect for that very hospitality, reminding myself that I have held my tongue in the face of more abusive diatribes in Egypt and Syria. At least this time around, my hosts’ political extremism brought home a lesson I hope to never transgress: no politics at the Shabbat table!

The conversation over lunch in Zfat was pretty rotten. But there were many wonderful, even marvelous, take-aways from my weekend sojourn in the azure alleyways of Zfat.

Shortly before sundown on Friday eve I dipped in the mikva of the Ari, the natural spring and ritual bath named after the great mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria. Friday night prayers took place in a small yeshiva overlooking Mount Meron, the view that gives Zfat its name and identity (the village of Meron is the burial place of Simon Bar Yochai, the second century legendary author of the key mystical work, the Zohar; Zfat literally means ‘view’). The prayers were filled with song and soul, never more so than at the end when a visiting group of secular air-force soldiers slipped in to join the largely breslov/carlebach crowd of worshipers.

For dinner I joined a family who have fashioned a home from the stone remnant of the town’s mountaintop crusader ruins. We ate by candlelight, drinking home-made wine and exchanging Torah as I marveled at the host’s reflexive tendency to whisper "l'kavod shabbos" (in honor of the shabbat) before consuming every bite of food. After dinner my host took me to the home of a visiting Hasidic rebbe. The old man’s hands melted in my own when he took my hand. But his blessing for my welfare and safety in the year ahead was firm and clear.

My visit to Zfat left me with its own blessing, a timely reminder of the spiritual axis that is critical to my Judaism and that I cannot afford to relinquish in the army. Serving in the army will no doubt strengthen my commitment to my people. And returning to kibbutz on weekends will provides me with accessible meals, laundry and friends. But neither the army nor kibbutz is likely to provide what I found in Zfat, that corner of my spiritual faith that not only teaches me how to improve the world but also leaves me with a clearer understanding of myself and my surroundings.

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