3 nights in an artistic and mystical city

Last week We were on vacation in Safed a small city in the north of Israel.
First, a few words about the hotel we stayed, Ruth Rimonim Safed
Ruth Rimonim Hotel is one of the picturesque hotels of the world.
It is situated high up on the Galilee Mountains, in the heart of the artist colony of Safed. Within walking distance of the hotel one can visit ancient synagogues, art galleries and artist’s ateliers, that are close to gardens and quaint corners. The hotel was built on the ruins of a 17th century Turkish Khan and has a unique building style. The new additions and renovations, to the hotel have retained the special atmosphere and style so evident in the city of Safed.
It is definitly the best place to stay when you visit Safed.

Safed (Hebrew: Tzfat) is a city in the Northern District of Israel and a center for Kabbalah , or Jewish mysticism. At an elevation of 800 meters (2,660 feet) above sea level, Safed is the highest city in the Galilee.
Safed rose to fame in the 16th century a center of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. A Hebrew printing press was established in Safed in 1577 by Eliezer Ashkenazi and his son, Isaac of Prague. It was the first press in Palestine and the whole of the Ottoman Empire.
After the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of Spain in 1492, many prominent rabbis found their way to Safed, among them the kabbalists Isaac Luria (Arizal) and Moshe Kordovero; Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch and Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, composer of the Sabbath hymn Lecha Dodi. The influx of Sephardi Jews made Safed a global center for Jewish learning and a regional center for trade throughout 15th and 16th centuries. An earthquake in 1759 and in 1847 left the city in ruins.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Safed was known as Israel’s art capital. The artists colony established in Safed’s Old City was a hub of creativity that drew leading artists from around the country, among them Yosl Bergner, Moshe Castel and Menachem Shemi. Some of Israel’s leading art galleries were located there. In honor of the opening of the Glitzenstein Art Museum in 1953, the artist Mane Katz donated eight of his paintings to the city. During this period, Safed was home to the country’s top nightclubs, hosting the debut performances of Naomi Shemer, Aris San, and other acclaimed singers.

Today there are a lot of artists living and working in the old city along with a lot of religious Jews practicing Kabalah. The beautiful alleys of the old city are full of art galleries and ancient Synagogues with fascinating history.

It was Purim Holiday and in Safed it is very authentic.
Monday evening was Purim Eve and according to the Jewish tradition we went to Abuhav Synagogue to listen to the Megillah reading.

Abuhav Synagogue was named after Rabbi Yitzchak (Isaac) Abuhav of Toledo (Spain). There is a bit of ambiguity, though, behind the origins of the Abuhav Synagogue in the mystic city of Safed.
The synagogue was first built in the sixteenth century and its southern wall in which the Holy Ark stands is unique. Instead of one Holy Ark there are three Holy Arks.
The middle one is used on a regular basis while the left one is used to store old, worn-out holy books. The one on the right is hardly ever used. Inside it is a Sefer Torah that was written nearly six hundred years ago by the hand of the famous Rabbi of Toledo (Spain), Rabbi Isaac Abuhav.
The scroll is the oldest in Safed and many traditions and legends are associated with it. During all these generations it was taken out and read on only three occasions: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Shavuot (Festival of Weeks).
Another Torah scroll in the Abuhav Synagogue is the scroll of Rabbi Solomon Ohana, a Kabbalist from Fez, Morocco, who moved to Safed in the sixteenth century.
The synagogue has been rebuilt twice since its creation, both times due to earthquakes.
The first time was in 1759, when a large earthquake almost leveled Safed. Only the southern wall of the synagogue containing the Holy Arks remained intact.
The second earthquake, in 1837, killed thousands of Jews and destroyed Safed. The synagogue was rebuilt again and dedicated in 1847.
The bima is in the center and the benches for the congregation are arranged around it, as was customary in ancient synagogues.
The interior of the synagogue dome is decorated with depictions of musical instruments that were used in the Temple in Jerusalem, symbols of the tribes of Israel, and four crowns, representing the Torah crown, the priestly crown, the royal crown, and a crown unique to Safed: “the crown of impending redemption.”
In keeping with the numerological tradition of Kabbalah, the design of the synagogue has numerical significance: one bima, two steps to it, three Arks, and so forth.

The next day was the Purim holiday, we were walking in the alleys of the old city, we heard music coming from one of the houses.
When we approached the house they invite us to join the party.
They gave us wine and offered some food, and they were playing live music and dancing with their Purim customs.

In the old city alleys, people were dancing in the street drinking and offering beer to all who passed there. A young girl offered sweets to the people passing there.

Tuesday March 17 2009.

3 nights in an artistic and mystical city

Moshe Cohen

Joined March 2008

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