Thursday, October 14, 2010

Life in Zfat (Safed)


When a Jew who knows something about Yiddishkeit or has some Jewish learning hears about the Israeli northern town of Zfat (Safed), he immediately starts thinking about Kabbalah and Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (the "Arizal", 1534 - 1572). Of course, there are other great Rabbis buried on the local cemetery as well such as Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Rabbi Yoseph Karo or Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz. However, many frum Jews see the Kabbalah in Zfat. A cozy atmosphere, a spiritual lifestyle; all in all, a frum life.

All this is real in Zfat, no doubt about that. However, reality is that Zfat can be also extremely secular and not every inhabitant is religious. Despite other opinions, I myself do consider the old city of Zfat as totally religious. Not entirely but very much though. Haredim everywhere and the Chabad Meshichistim have their stronghold downtown. Everyone is able to lead his personal lifestyle but, in the old city, a lot depends on religion and tourism.

But what can you actually do in Zfat besides breathing Yiddishkeit ?
Fact is that you have to live, earn a Parnassah, pay your rent, etc. How are you going to do this without any industry here. Of course, there are industrial areas but those are small and limited. There are plenty of shops but not each of them is offering job opportunities.

Another tourist attraction inside the old city is the Artist Quarter. Hundreds of local artists paint pictures and have their art studios next to each other. While passing, I am constantly asking myself how each of this artists is able to make a living. Not every tourists is just walking into a gallery and schlepping out a painting.

Rents in Zfat are relatively low but their are just no jobs available.

I am not the Zfat type anyway but love Tiberias (Hebrew: Tveriya). The town at the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) is about 30km down the hill but it has something to offer. Not too much industry either but a large tourist industry. The Tverianim are more down to earth and despite the limited space and cultural events, Tiberias has something to offer.

The advantage of Zfat is that, throughout history, it has never been a place of idol - worship. Sometimes Tiberias is flooded with Christian tourists and this is a little disturbing. At least to me because those crazy Christians are running to their little wooden boats singing and then going wild at their idol - worship sites. Zfat has nothing to offer to Christians except for maybe some paintings in the Artist Quarter.

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