University of Haifa International School Student Blog
Hey guys—As my time in Haifa winds down to an end, I’m trying to do as much as I can before I have to go back to the States. It’s an especially busy time because I’m also trying to prepare for my final exams and papers. I feel kind of like I’m torn between working hard on my academics and trying to enjoy Israeli life for the last three weeks I’m here. Hopefully I’ll be able to reconcile the two! Before I end my semester, I have two final exams to take and four papers to write. Since I’m taking three of my four classes as seminars, the papers for those courses have to be at least twenty pages long. Though this seems very long and will definitely be a lot of work, I’ll end my semester with fifteen credits from my regular courses and six credits from my Hebrew Ulpan. This means I’ll be returning to Colby College with twenty-one credits. This is more than I ever imagined getting and may eventually contribute to my early graduation.
Aside from academics, I went on an exceptionally enjoyable trip this past weekend. On Sunday, I spent the day with some friends in the Northern Israeli city of Tzfat, or Safed. The highest city in Israel, Tzfat is extremely beautiful and offers amazing views of the Galilee and surrounding mountains. Tzfat is known for being the center of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism in Israel. Walking through the cobblestone streets of its Old City, one can see many Jewish people dressed in Orthodox garb mixing and mingling with people in plain clothes. Tzfat’s encouragement towards mysticism and self-discovery makes it an ideal city for artists and free thinkers, culminating in a vibrant Artist Colony scattered with galleries of all kinds. Tzfat held particular interest for me because of my enthusiasm for my Jewish Spiritual Practices class. I’ve really loved studying the tenants of Kabbalah and other spiritual practices, and was eager to learn more.
Upon arriving in Tzfat after a two-hour bus ride, we walked the short distance from the central bus station into the city, stopping only for a pick-me-up at Coffix. We began by eating lunch at a vegetarian dairy café postured on the top edge of the mountain, with a fantastic view of the valley below. The day began foggy and wet, but the sun came out as we arrived displaying bits of mountain landscape through the clouds. Tzfat itself felt as though it was inside a cloud, perhaps adding to the mystical feelings it invoked. After lunch, we began walking through the city, stopping to look inside an art gallery. Following signs, we discovered the warehouse of the Old Safed Winery, and proceeded to do a wine tasting. The winery was owned and run by a small family, and Karen, the wife of Moshe, the founder, taught us a lot about their process and mission. They were non-religious Jews and then decided to become religious and move to Tzfat. Karen talked a lot about the value of raising your children outside—away from the overwhelming media-dominated world. Because my mom had banned all video-game related devices, I spent much of my childhood playing outside and feel like I am all the better for it. Karen and her family reminded me of the value of imagination and creativity. Nowadays, most people (myself included!) cannot go for a few minutes without looking at their phones. The kind of romance, beauty, and mysticism in Tzfat felt like a subtle rebellion against this.
After buying a bottle of wine as a gift for my parents, we left and began walking through the artisan market. For a few moments, I stopped in at the Kabbalah center and conversed with the Rabbi there about my Jewish Spiritual Practices class and what I knew about Kabbalah. We next visited the beautiful Ashkenazi synagogue during prayer. Finally, we stopped in to pick up some locally made cheese at the “Safed Cheeze” shop/factory. I’m really grateful I got a chance to visit Tzfat and recommend that anyone visiting Israel stop there. It has a sort of magic about it and an immense natural beauty. Trips like this one will definitely end my time in Israel on a high, if slightly bittersweet, note.