Every Student Has A Story

University of Haifa International School Student Blog

Safed, Mt Meron, and Shabbat -by Yael

Yesterday was jam-packed. We left early in the morning for the Upper Galilee, and arrived at Safed, which is one of the four holy cities in Israel (the others being Tiberias, Hebron, and Jerusalem). It felt a bit like an elephant tipping on a tightrope to get up the mountain in our large air conditioned tour bus, but eventually we reached the city. Being more accustomed to Haifa and Tel Aviv, it was a unique experience to be in Safed and walk among the orthodox (their children are so adorable). I learned a lot about Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, and the color blue. At our first stop on the tour of the city, we saw the Davidka used during the early stages of the 1948 War of Independence. The surrounding buildings were still riddled with holes in their walls from enemy fire, which was so odd for me to see, as a non-war-zone visiting American.

We went inside the Ashkenazi and Sephari synagogues, and observed the differences in their structures. Ashkenazi synagogues were more influenced by the layouts of churches in Europe, with the inclusion of pews and rows. The Sephardi synagogue was laid out in a circle, and included many architectural features that relied upon the important numbers of Jewish mysticism. In both synagogues, I was surprised to see crowns featured so prominently, as I had always associated crowns with Christianity and Christian iconography. I enjoyed walking through the stone alleyways and learning about Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph (I think, there were a lot of names thrown out that day), as well as the rules of who can and cannot study Kabbalah. I was also constantly aware of the limitations given to women, such as their designated locations in shrouded balconies overhead, and again the need to cover up in holy sites. Whatever, I’m getting used to it, but it still annoys me.

We had time to shop around the town, and headed to find some challah for shabbat dinner. I bought a lovely loaf at a delicious smelling bakery. Super holy challah from Safed, check! My backpack smelled lovely the entire day. (Also, I would like to mention that on the trip, we had a security guard with a gun who would join several groups walking around at any given time, and he was really funny and would repeat things after you said them. When I said I was from New York, he was like “…New York? Ahhhhh NEW YORK!” He also wore sunglasses that made him look like a Mossad agent, and it made me laugh after seeing that in person after hearing my dad talk about that for all these years.) Anyway, Chelsea, Hannah, and I shared a wrap of schnitzel, with eggplant, tahini, hummus, cabbage, “chips” aka french fries, and this red spicy sauce. Delish. Afterwards, I ran across the narrow street to get a smoothie, which was the best smoothie ever. Mango sorbet with passionfruit, strawberries, mango, peaches, dates, mmmhmm so fresh, good, and cold. That held me for a while, and we got back on the bus and headed towards Mt. Meron.

We ascended the mountain and split off into hiking groups. As usual, I ran to the front of the pack, because I can’t stand slow walkers in front of me, and chatted with the guide about environmentalism in Israel, the trails at the National Park near the University of Haifa, and my first experiences in Israel. It was nice to take a break from conversing with non-locals and get his perspective. Our trail was a circle around the top of the mountain (we did not go to the peak), and we had the most amazing, sweeping views of the Upper Galilee and Lebanon. The area identified as Lebanon was highly evident from our elevation—there were no trees. Israel made planting trees an initiative in the early years of its foundation as a country, so the region marked as Lebanon was very brown and dusty. We looked down towards the Israeli villages, with their red roofs and planned-city structures, as well as the Arab villages, with their white roofs and sprawling homes, which existed and formed prior to the advent of planned cities in Israel. We were also able to see a city (name escapes me) where the study of Kabbalah is paramount, and the city structure is the shape of a circle to pay homage to the mysticism.

We continued hiking and saw many beautiful trees (etzim?), especially the oak, cedar, terebinth, pine, olive, and this amazing red-barked tree, that, when the red coating is brushed off, is this amazing green color. Its name, again, escapes me, but I will totally post pictures because it is the most amazing eel-looking tree ever. It was lovely to be back in nature, although the tour group chatter did not let me enjoy the silence of the outdoors as much as I would have liked. Hannah and I agreed that we would do some hiking outside of the large group and move at our own pace with a smaller amount of people. I asked the guide about routes from the University down to the beach, and he said it would be hot, but it is doable, although it takes several hours. Maybe it’s something we can leave to September on a Saturday.

We returned back to campus, and I showered like I was covered in insects. While we were on an elevation, and the temperature was therefore cooler (there was dried moss on the trees, which shows how humid it usually is up there when it is not the scorching summer), it was still pretty damn hot. We brought a lot of water with us, though, and took many breaks, and walked at a slow speed, as per the guide’s recommendation. (Also, there was a lot of garbage/litter there. When we made it to the huge olive trees at the end of the hike, there was like an explosion of used sanitary napkins all over the ground. It was barbaric and disgusting. Many people here care about the environment, while others don’t see it as a priority at all.)

Anyway, after we returned to campus, Becky texted me that we would be having Shabbat dinner at Eric’s dorm, for which he cooked all the food and set the table for our group. It was delish, and a nice tradition we intend on keeping, while changing who cooks what and where. The challah was excellent as well, if I may say so myself about my singular contribution.

Afterwards, we heard that there was a party in the moadon (dorm clubhouse) (totally not America haha) so we headed up to check it out. It was okay, my friends and I made efforts to make our own little party on the side, and Abraham, one of the Israelis here I keep bumping into at the mini-market, told me about an outdoor dubstep club near the Druze village, which we will have to get to once a large group wants to head over there. The students here like to organize in large groups and head out in the evenings by bus to either the center of town or other sites where there are clubs or bars. After a long day, we turned in around midnight, and I rested my feet after another sticky day in the sun.

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