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Kinneret, Tiberias, Tzefat: Feeling Fabulous in Northern Israel

I’m in heaven again as I watch the sun rise over the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). This beautifully blue body of water (famed of late as the setting for Jesus’ Gospel miracles: turning water into wine, walking on water, multiplying fish and bread into enough to feed hundreds) also has the distinction of being the source of much of Israel’s drinking water, fresh water sports, fishing and boating. I had the pleasure of arriving early to give my (now healthy) daughter a half day away from the group so she could recover from a slight fever and cold that was making its way through the group (worry not, everyone is fine!).

From our 16th floor window at the Tiberias hotel, we had a gorgeous view of the bright blue sea. During our hour walk around the area, we stopped at a charming “beach” (some rocky sand down by the seashore) lined with palm trees. Not a wealthy town, Tiberias nonetheless was clean, calm and welcoming.

I have fond memories from my year-long stays in Israel (a year after high school, another year at the start of Rabbinical school) of trekking around this northern region. The lush greens of the hillsides, the deep colors of the agricultural land that checkerboards the valleys, and the flocks of birds flying to and fro. Getting me out of Miami Beach-like Tel Aviv and into the Galilee (north) is like taking basic yellow cake (tasty but unimaginative) and covering it with a layer of rich chocolate frosting. And here I was, walking with my eldest child, tasting the ta’am (flavor) of this Jewish city in this Jewish land. In fact, were it not for the regular rain and the biting winter cold (two things that in time I could get used to), I could make my home away from home here. I felt giddy.

The drive up north to catch up with the group in Tzfat (Safed) was equally magnificent. Our cranky cabdriver in spite of himself shared a bit of his history. I kvelled with joy as my little used Hebrew grew stronger and stronger as the conversation meandered from history (his family has roots in the north going back almost 100 years) to family (five children ranging from high school to post-Army grad school – one each studying law and psychology) to Kinneret water levels (still too dry) to the summer’s war (in spite of missiles landing nearby, they did not flee because “this is our land”) to where we needed to be dropped in Tzfat (clearly, he did not know that area).

As we drove up the winding road from northern point of the Kinneret to Tzfat, we were delighted at the simple splendor that greeted us. I nudged my daughter out of her book. Look there at the greenery. Look here at the rocky hillsides. See there, wildflowers. See here, clear blue skies.

We encountered the group outside the synagogue of the AR”I (Rabbi Isaac Luria), the famous 16th century mystic. A quick tutorial on Kabbalah, a quick tour of the ornate crammed shul, and a quick pause on the raised bimah to offer a Mi Shebeirach for many (including Linda Fingleson’s parents – she clearly would love being in the home of Jewish spirituality). Soon we were off for a lesson in Kabbalistic artistry with an artist cum educator. Shin, Mem, Aleph. Prime letters drawn in prime colors. Basic shapes – triangle, rectangle, circle. Circles within circles signifying the varying levels of awareness. Perceptions within perceptions. Are the concentric circles telescoping in or out? (Both.) What does this teach us about reality? (That we can observe holiness on both the micro and the macro level.) Ayin Sof (meaning, “That which has no end.”) The connections between colors and lines and shapes and concentric circles are those invisible lines of connections (a la Rabbi Larry Kushner) which illumine the ineffable. The Holy One, a.k.a. God. The experience meshed well with my Institute of Jewish Spirituality retreat program over the past two years. Connections within connections. A comforting alternative to radical individualism.

Oy, so much to consider. Some much we learned. Time to put it aside to do some serious shopping in the Artists Galleries of Tzfat. L’hitraot… See you (blog you) later!

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