“Excuse me. I see you walking here every day. Who are you?”
This is a typical Israeli greeting. Direct, to the point, borderline rude.
“Oh, welcome! Tomorrow night I am having a birthday celebration on the beach to bring in Shabbat. Please come and join us!”
This is a typical Israeli response, once you’ve introduced yourself as a visitor. Friendly, inclusive, borderline familial.
Bruria is the unofficial mother of Ginosar, a kibbutz on the shores of The Kinneret (the “Sea of Galilee”) in northern Israel. With a mention of her name, you’re usually treated to a story about how she helped one’s family in one way or another. And we were delighted to share in her birthday celebration one Friday evening; a beach party complete with a bonfire amongst her many friends and family from near and far.
Something we came to appreciate more during our one month living in Israel was truly how diverse Israeli people and their customs are. Life on the kibbutz is mostly about a shared experience amongst a close community; Jewish traditions are present but it’s nothing close to a life of religious observance. It actually kind of reminded us of Jewish summer camp in some ways. At this particular celebration, there wasn’t a challah, a kiddush cup or Shabbat candles to be seen, but it certainly was a celebration of the Sabbath nonetheless.
By contrast, the following week we found ourselves in Tzfat (“Safed”) for Shabbat. To make a long story short, we drove the 30 minutes from our home on the kibbutz first thing in the morning so that Heather could attend a short class on Jewish meditation, and by late morning we had decided to check in to The Artists’ Colony Inn so that we could experience a Shabbat in this holy city which is also the center of Jewish Mysticism (aka Kabbalah).
The slightly longer story is that we had the spontaneous thought to maybe spend the night, but we had no accommodations and Shabbats are usually fully booked in Tzfat year-round. Our friend had suggested just the night before that if we ever found ourselves in Tzfat, we should find The Artists’ Colony Inn. No sooner after deciding to try to find the inn to see if they had an open room did we look to our left and realize we were standing right outside the door. They happened to have a room available and it was so clear we were supposed to stay that we had no choice but to check in.
The Artists’ Colony was no ordinary inn, and the owner Susan, along with her family and friends, helped make our 24 hours in Tzfat truly unforgettable. To say that Tzfat is a more religious setting than the kibbutz is an understatement. As one example, 30 minutes before sundown on Shabbat, loudspeakers throughout the city play music so that everyone knows it is time to start lighting the candles. Here’s the tail end of that song as heard and seen from the inn’s patio.
After sundown, Heather continued to lose herself in the spirituality of the city while Corey attended Friday night services at the House of Love and Prayer–a boisterous yet Orthodox version of the Shabbat service with singing and dancing held outside on the steps of the synagogue–and we then joined Susan’s Shabbat dinner table for prayer and an incredible meal. A meal which started at 10 and ended around 1 in the morning.
Israel means many different things to many different people. And that’s a huge part of what makes Israel such an incredible place. We feel fortunate to leave it–for now–with so many great memories of new experiences (like windsurfing!) and friends who made us feel so welcomed and at home while we visited. Toda raba (thank you very much) to all of you!
More Photos from Around Ginosar and Tzfat