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Tzfat (Safed): A Community of Personalities

Touring a new place in Israel or revisiting a favorite site generally involves viewing and learning about an interesting religious, cultural or historical site.

Visitors to Safed, however, have the opportunity to spend some time with some Safed personalities whose stories and work adds to the enjoyment of the visit. There are thousands of native English-speakers in Safed, many of whom are involved in art, Kabbalah study, cultural events and other unique activities. Visitors are welcome to spend some time walking around and meeting some of Safed’s personalities.

Chaya Ben Baruch

Chaya Ben Baruch

Yisrael and Chaya Ben Baruch made aliyah to Safed from Alaska almost 20 years ago with their four children including their third son, Avichai, who has Downs Syndrome and an adopted daughter Keren, who also has Downs Syndrome. Over the years the Ben Baruch’s have continued to foster children. Two of these children who also have Downs Syndrome children live permanently with Chaya and Yisrael.

Last year Avichai and Keren — brother and sister by adoption, but not biologically – married in a ceremony that was covered extensively by the Israeli press.

Recently Chaya has become more involved in art. She is one of the co-owners of the new Miriam’s Well Collective Women’s Art Gallery which is located at 64 Jerusalem Street. Her fused and stained glass works are on display along with fellow artist Judy Paiken’s ceramics and other jewelry and prints. Chaya is devoting her gallery proceeds towards her dream of creating a sheltered living situation in which her children Avichai and Keren, along with other special needs young adults, will be able to live a safe and independent life. Chaya is always happy to discuss her life and work with visitors. She can be contacted at chaya2426@gmail.com or 052-6402426.

Finding Livnot U’Lehibanot director Aharon Botzer involves heading to the Livnot campus on Alkabetz Street in the Old Jewish Quarter.

Aharon and his wife Miriam established the Livnot program in 1980 as a framework in which young Jewish adults could explore their Judaism in an open and non-denominational environment of hiking, learning and performing community service. Livnot is one of Israel’s most successful programs and over the years thousands of graduates have gone on to positions of responsibility in the Jewish community within all Jewish streams, theologies and philosophies. Livnot programs range from one week to four weeks but “past chevre” continue to come back to experience the ultimate Livnot Shabbat atmosphere of dynamic celebration.

Livnot participants have played a major role in rebuilding the Old Jewish Quarter over the past 33 years. Five hundred year-old buildings remain buried under layers of earthquake rubble throughout the Old City and Livnot participants, along with Livnot’s professional crew, have, over the years, restored dozens of buildings, many of which are now part of the Livnot campus.

Aharon and his staff are available to take visitors on a tour of some of the excavations that are presently being undertaken. These “tunnel tours” link to the “Kahal” project – an excavated site which has been named by the Israeli Government as a National Heritage Site.

Avraham Loewenthal

Avraham Loewenthal

Kabbalah study developed in Safed in the 1500s and ever since Safed has been known as the City of Kabbalah. Visitors who are interested in learning more about Kabbalah can visit some of the local artists who express their Kabbalistic studies through their paintings. Denver-native Dovid Friedman, whose gallery is located on Bar Yochai Street in the Old Jewish Quarter, and Detroit-born Avraham Lowenthal, who lives and works on Tet Vav Street in the Artist Quarter, greet visitors to their galleries where they illustrate many concepts of Jewish mysticism in their artwork. Each artist has his own style but both rely on their studies of Kabbalah as they illustrate Judaism’s duality of the concrete and the abstract and the relationship between the “Ein Sof” – an infinite God and a finite universe.

Special thanks to Laurie Rappeport for contributing this blog.

Laurie Rappeport has lived in Safed, Israel for over 25 years and worked at the Tourist Information Center in the Old Jewish Quarter for 13 years. She continues to be involved in a wide range of projects which are aimed at bringing visitors to Safed to enjoy the religious, historical, cultural and artistic sites and experiences that the city has to offer. Laurie blogs at Safed.blogspot.

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