| April 21, 2013 | 0 Comments
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Introduction to Safed (Tzfat)

Typical Safed Alleyway

Typical Safed Alleyway (Photo: רות סנדמן, CC BY 2.5)

With 27,000 permanent residents, Safed, commonly known by its Hebrew name of Tzfat, is the highest and coldest city in Israel. Safed is perched at a 2,800 foot (850 m) altitude, and occasionally visitors can enjoy tramping through a snowy white wonderland. Summer nights are usually fresh and comfortable. The climb up to Safed, with its steep cliffs, offers stunning views. Threaded with exciting walkways and scenic gardens and parks, the spread-out and hilly city generates a feeling of being on top of the world. Following World War II, thousands of refugees arrived in Safed – both those who fled from North African countries and European refugees who survived the Holocaust. They settled in mixed neighborhoods of Safed, and blended their traditions and customs.

Holy Origins of Safed

But there is a yet higher level to Safed than its geographic location: its spiritual level. Safed is one of the four cities in Israel regarded as Jewish holy cities together with sister holy city Tiberias on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Jerusalem and Hebron, Safed is an important focal point of biblical history spanning thousands of years. Many tzaddikim (righteous holy people) are buried in the Galilee. These graves tend to be located in some of the most scenic locations in the Land of Israel, and most are easily accessible by foot or car. Many have been transformed into houses of prayer.

The cave associated with the yeshiva (Jewish learning academy) of Shem and Ever, son and grandson of Noah respectively, is in close walking distance of the city. The sixteenth century rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria,  known as the “Ari” (the lion),who dwelled in Safed until his premature death, is universally regarded in the world of Jewish scholarship as an authority on the Kabbalah, the path of Jewish mysticism encompassed in the Zohar and other deep esoteric texts. The Mikveh of the Ari, a natural spring known for its holiness, can be visited adjacent to the ancient cemetery below the Artists’ Quarter.

The city flourished in the 16th century, when many famous Jewish religious scholars and mystics moved to Safed following the Spanish Expulsion, fleeing from the horrors of the Inquisition.

In the Old City of Safed

In the Old City of Safed (Photo: מצילומי יהודית גרעין-כל, CC BY 2.5)

Safed Israel Tourism

Travelers will find an extensive Tourist Information Center in the Old Jewish Quarter on Alkabetz Street. The Center provides assistance to tourists who drop in to access information about the Safed region. To contact the center phone:  972-4-6924427. Accommodations cater to all income levels, from Jewish learning centers with free board and lodging up to five-star luxury hotels. The list of eateries in the city is no less extensive.

Safed is a town of unusual architecture. Streets go from top downward, and they were built up in ancient times by comers from different countries. The main shopping street is Jerusalem Street (Rehov Yerushalayim), with a number of pavement cafés. The old part of town consists of narrow cobblestone alleys revealing artists’ galleries, medieval synagogues, private homes and small guest houses.


Safed (Photo: קרלוס הגדול, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The breathtaking forest setting with its steep cliffs and mountain air is conducive to clear thinking and lofty spiritual thoughts. You, too, can contribute to the greening of Israel by visiting the Jewish National Fund’s Tree Planting Center just outside Safed.

By location, Safed is ideally situated for a long vacation, just a short distance from other worthwhile sites, including:

  • Meron, with its tomb of the famous Jewish mystic and author of the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai;

  • The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), with Tiberias and swimming facilities;

  • The Golan Heights, including ski resorts of Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in Israel.

Safed Art

Just off the south end of Jerusalem Street in Safed lies the artists’ quarter. In the 1950s and 1960s, Safed was known as Israel’s art capital, and the artists’ colony established in Safed’s Old City drew leading artists from around the country. Visiting the local art galleries makes a relaxing pastime. In the summer, especially during July and August, Safed is abuzz with activity, for galleries and shops stay open late.

Klezmers Playing

Klezmers Playing (Photo: Flavio, CC BY 2.0)

Safed: Did You Know?

Often the air in Safed is filled with folksy Klezmer music (Eastern European Jewish “soul music”). Regarded as the “Klezmer capital of the world,” Safed hosts an annual Klezmer Festival that attracts top musicians from around the globe.

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Category: Art, Historical, Holy Sites, Judaism, Safed

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