Cordovero’s Safed was a city of 18 study halls and 22 synagogues where lay devotions and public acts of penance were the norm. Pining away for God mixed with the channeling of errant spirits. And Yosef Karo the author of the Shulkhan Arukh received an angelic visitor guiding him in ritual practice and bodily mortification. Solomon Schachter’s Safed was a romantic vision of kabbalists going out into the field to greet the Sabbath. (In actually, Cordovero sang Lekha Dodi indoors and Luria meditated on Ana BaKoah without lekha Dodi outdoors.) Now Safed has combined its romantic heritage with Israeli Hasidism and then transformed the aura into a world of art, new age spirituality, hippie ethos and holistic health. Even without the visits by the material girl, there is still a whole lot of materiel religion going on.
Alastair Macdonald of Reuters seeks to capture the new age spirit of the city in an article and a blog post.
In this hilltop town above the Sea of Galilee, black-clad Hassidic Jews throng stone alleys where sandal-shod New Agers offer biblical jewelry and organic hummus to tourists seeking enlightenment — or Madonna.
But in this mountain-top retreat for Jewish mystics, both of an Orthodox and of less conventional persuasion, the public outburst of peace, love and understanding seemed entirely natural. Depending on your national cultural references, it’s hard to capture the spirit of Safed precisely – it is part hippie-haven, part devotional centre for hordes of black-clad Hassidic Jews; part Taos, New Mexico, part Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Spirituality and tradition are everywhere on Safed’s storefronts — “Natural face cream products based on ancient recipes”; “Bible and Mystical Art Center”; “Art & Soul.” Craft and art shops abound, though the town has lost the reputation it enjoyed in the 1960s as a home for Israel’s serious art world.
“SPA FOR THE SOUL”
It might seem the last place to forget one’s cares. But that is just what Eyal Riess of kabbalahtour.com at the International Center for Tzfat Kabbalah recommends. Eighteen years after he traded in the secular life of metropolitan Tel Aviv, he believes even a short burst of Safed air and Kabbalah can work wonders.
Busy executives choppering in for a few hours of “Kabbalah Experience,” or the party of “Russian oligarchs” flying down specially from Moscow direct to Safed for three days are among 40,000 people who Rabbi Riess says visit his center every year. One of his tour offerings is branded “A Spa for the Soul.” “Kabbalah teaches the parallels of experience between the spiritual and physical,” Riess said, pointing from his rooftop terrace to the cemetery “where Madonna visited last year.” We find the code of the soul of a person, based on the letters of his name and the date of his birth.”
Next door, Algiers-born, Paris-raised Danielle Chouraqui, a self-taught painter, is painstakingly at work on her latest creation, designed to draw viewers into pondering the mystic links between the Hebrew alphabet and the secrets of the human body and soul — “22 letters, 22 chromosomes,” she says. Her goal is “to get people to talk to their soul.”
As a town housing both Arabs and Jews, Safed saw violence in the decades leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In that year, Safed had a substantial Muslim Arab majority, including the 13-year-old Mahmoud Abbas – now the Palestinian president. Most became refugees as Jewish forces swept through the Galilee. Aside from a mosque, turned into an art gallery, and some Israeli public monuments to the war, there are few reminders of their presence.
I regularly receive sincere phone calls and emails from people looking for the Lurianic source for Safed aromatheraphy, healing candles, and yogic kabbalah. This article captures something of the spirit.