Tuesday, June 16, 2009

North to the Galilee

We are spending this week away from Jerusalem, catching our breath and enjoying the slightly cooler temperatures in the north.

For our first few days, we stayed in Zichron Ya'akov, with Janet's cousins, Florence and Emile. Zichron is a beautiful old city high on a hill above the Mediterranean coast. It was settled by early Zionist pioneers, with money and assitance from the Rothschild family, who helped to plant vinyards in the region. While in Zichron, we walked and played and rested. It was especially good to be in a spacious house after so many weeks in a rather cramped apartment.

We are now in Amirim, which is high in the Upper Galilee. Amirim is a moshav, a community/village, where all the residents are vegetarian. The lifestyles, and the landscape, are reminiscent of northern California. Our cabin is absolutely luxurious, with two hot tubs, flat screen television, and splendid flora. We have avocado, pomegranate and fig trees just outside, with fruit ripe for the picking. And the flowers are astounding: brilliant colors and such fragrance perfuming the air. It is a truly relaxing place.

Tuesday afternoon, we drove down to the Sea of Galilee. The water level is very low, as there has been a prolonged drought and the Kinneret (Galilee) is the primary source of fresh water for the country. But it was still beautiful. We watched a bunch of people para-sailing. It was an ideal day for that, as the wind was blowing fiercely. This also meant a lot of waves. Rachel enjoyed jumping up and down in those waves. I had a great swim, too. Unfortunately, I left my phone in my bathing suit pocket the entire time, so I now have a very soaked cell phone. Since this is a land of marvels and miracles, maybe it will resurrect itself. If not, I'm out a phone for the next month or so.

On Wednesday, we travelled to Tzefat/Safed, home of Jewish mysticism. This city, high in the mountains of the upper Galilee, was home to the kabbalists who came as refugees after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Luria, they formulated a myth that gave cosmic significance to their experience of exile and suffering--and which brought comfort to their own generation and all that have followed. They essentially argued that since the creation, God, Him/Herself has been in exile, and that by doing mitzvot and good deeds, we act as God's partners in tikkun olam, repairing the world and remedying this existenial exile.

One can see why they were attracted to Tzefat. It is a beautiful place, with narrow streets, gorgeous stone buildings, and a mystical air that comes from its high altitude. It is about the closest thing Israel has to the Himalayas, which I experienced two months ago. There is a kind of clarity about the place that is very powerful. Of course it also tends to attract lunatics, which is the down side of the mystical enterprise. I'm not a mystic by learning or inclination; my ancestors were Litvak misnagdim, the rationalists who opposed this approach. But I do appreciate the beauty of the mystical path, which speaks directly to the heart as well as the head.

Today we are off to the Golan, which should offer some nice hiking and a further respite from the heat.

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