Sunday, June 07, 2009

City of Kabbalah

The three most common questions that I'm asked, as coordinator of the Tourist Center of Tzfat, are:
1. Where are the bathrooms
2. What is there to see here?
3. Are you a Kabbalist?

The first 2 are pretty straightforward. The bathrooms are down the street, up the stairs, and to the left. Sites to see are noted on the map.

And "am I a Kabbalist?" Well, no, not at all, really. I understand almost nothing about Jewish mysticism -- no matter how many times I hear about the Sephirot, I still don't quite get it, nor, frankly, do I care.

But there is something magical about the town that I live in, and my appreciation for some of the other-worldly aspects of Tzfat do have a certain mystical quality.

For me, the magic is the interactions between people, and the general appreciation and acceptance that people seem to have for each other. Right outside the door of my office is a network of galleries and other tourist shops with the widest variety of shopowners imaginable. Today, as I walked down the street, I saw one of the street vendors who usually looks like one of the gang members from West Side Story sitting quietly by his "basta" (stall) reading a book of Psalms.

The street is also a favorite spots for panhandlers, and they know that almost all the shop owners, no matter what business is like, will give them some coins. The two scruffy guys who own the shops at the beginning of the street and who are known as the ones to avoid because of their pushiness -- they actually growl at the people who don't buy from them -- they're the ones who can always be seen bringing bags of leftover fish and meat to the neighborhood stray cats, and watch over the cats while they eat as well.

Tzfat is the place where the drug addicts who wander the streets say "thank God" when someone gives them some food, and even (sometimes) say the proper blessings over the food before they eat.

Tzfat is the town which is often compared to the mythical town of Chelm in old Yiddish stories, where everything seems upside-down, but somehow comes out all right -- centuries of mountain air seem to have made people rather light-headed here, but in a good way.

It's not for everyone, I have said millions of times, but Kabbalah or not, there's something about Tzfat that draws people, and one doesn't have to have a degree in Kabbalah study to feel it.

1 comment:

Bobo Bubalisky said...

So lets see if I have this straight. The two scruffy guys are rude to people, but kind to cats. Sounds about right to me.