I spent the last two nights in Tzfat, receiving a spiritual reboot.
After quite a lot of deliberation on how to spend our break my friends and I eventually decided to head to the ancient holy city of Tzfat, the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) center of the world. My friends and I had stayed in Tzfat during Simchas Torah and had received tickets for 2 free nights at a youth hostel (called Ascent) there. We packed our stuff into backpacks, got on a train and bus, and 4 hours later we arrived. When we entered Ascent hostel I was immediately greeted with a big hug by the rabbi that I argued with about existentialism during Simchas Torah. How cool!
We spent that first night wandering through the streets of Tzfat. We ate shawarma while talking to the kind orthodox people of Tzfat.
The next morning my friends and I woke up early to take a class in Kabbalah at the hostel. It was just us and one other woman in the class. We talked about how the Torah meshes with modern science (I don’t think it does. 6 days of creation isn’t a metaphor, it’s just wrong), the 10 utterances of creation by god (significance of god creating through speech) and the characteristics of time as an independent creature. It was a blast.
Then we geared up and headed over to the nearby grocery store to pick up provisions for our night in the mountains. Grabbing bread, salami, canned tuna, nuts, dried fruit and water…we headed down into the valley.
I had looked up the best hikes in Tzfat, but due to our impatience we simply began walking down into the mountains without a plan (or a map).
Far ahead and below us on the opposite mountain we saw an ancient ruin with a trail running next to it. We walked down through a cemetery (respectfully on the sidewalk), hopped over fences, and maneuvered over boulders and tall thorny grass. We reached the ruins and sat down for a while to have a snack break. As I breathed fresh air into my lungs I felt my stress fade away.
We continued to hike, singing Notorious BIG and Beatles songs as we walked. Suddenly we all felt a giant weight being lifted from our shoulders.
My friend and I sat down on a bridge and I looked down at the stream below me and remembered a line from a song by Twin Cities rapper Eyedea that touched me emotionally and spiritually.
“We’re under a spell thinking the river should go straight
We set goals and desires to control our own fate
But all the pain we experience is a result of our expectations
Because it’s the rivers nature to twist and turn
The sh** can burn
And I know it
I have the same conflict
But I try to sit and flow with this rivers natural process
And sometimes when I watch myself float downstream
I see the beauty of it all, and it feels like a dream
And at that time I appreciate the rivers course
Some call it God, reality, momentum, force.”
Eyedea – Here For You
I’ve gone through many changes, challenges and obstacles this year. My program is reaching the end of its first semester, which means I will move to Jerusalem and that a few of my friends will be heading back to America. However in that moment, hanging my boots over a stream in the mountains of Tzfat, I felt completely at peace with my rapidly changing river of life. Rather than fight against the current or curse it’s twists and turns, I’m slowly learning to accept what is outside of my control. .
After hiking for several more hours we set up our tent underneath a tree overhang. Our program gave us a broken tent, we weren’t surprised, and so we used tape to try and repair it. It was ghetto (we taped the already-broken poles to rocks because we didn’t have stakes), but it worked.
We began working on a campfire. Gathering dry wood and leaves, as well as arranging rocks in a circle for a fire pit.
The fire danced in front of us as we ate dinner together. We roasted marshmallows over the flames, cracked jokes and shared our favorite songs on our barely alive iDevices.
My friend points and yells and as I turn to see a large cow standing 100 feet away from us. My friend Saul and I get up, ready to protect and assert our male dominance. Saul grabs a large piece of wood and puts it in the fire to set it on fire. Short on time, he takes it out of the flame and settles for a smoking piece of wood. As he stands across from the cow with a piece of wood in his hand I watch the cow take notice of him and slowly turn around and back away. Victory is ours.
As the fire continued to burn, Saul and I freestyle rapped for hours over various instrumental beats. For the older adults reading, freestyle is a style of rap in which rap lyrics are improvised, and spoken “off the top of the head.” Our raps delved into philosophy, our connection with nature, our personal lives, fictional stories, existentialism etc.
Here’s an example of a freestyle rap by Twin Cities rapper Kristoff Krane (Concordia College alum)
When we grew tired we crept into the tent. We couldn’t figure out what/who smelled awful, but knew it was likely all of us. A few hours later the tent broke so we all slept in our sleeping bags on top of the tent. Nobody slept well. There were scary stories, secrets and jokes all night…as well as the howls of coyotes.
The next morning we crawled out of our sleeping bags thinking that it was quite early until we realized it was 9:00 am and checkout was in two hours…and we were in the middle of the woods with no idea how to get back. Awesome 🙂
We quickly packed up everything, stuffed our trash in plastic bags and headed back out onto the trail. Thanks to the help of various hikers that we met along the way, we found our way back to Tzfat. The hike back up the mountain was incredibly exhilarating and steep. Saul and I pretended we were warriors on our way to battle and hooted and hollered all the way up. It was difficult and we all rejoiced at the top.
As we were walking back towards Tzfat, we received directions from more people as to how to return to the city.
A cop car pulled up on the road and when Saul waved at them, they beckoned us over. Two large police officers packing weapons stepped out of the patrol vehicle and asked us where we were from and staying. I explained to them that we lived in Tel Aviv, but were staying at a youth hostel in Tzfat. He then asked if we had any cigarettes. We didn’t and told them so. They didn’t believe us and told us to empty our pockets. I took out everything from my pockets. My phone, a few shekels and a box of matches. They patted us all down, even reaching into our jacket pockets. When they asked to look at the receipt my friend had in his jacket pocket, I asked the officer if there was a problem. No response. The other officer was chuckling at us. I still have no idea what the issue was or if they were just messing with us. Either way it was weird, especially because we’re white Americans.
We met up with a few other people on our program staying in Tzfat and had a relaxing lunch with them at a restaurant in downtown Tzfat after showering at the hostel. A very nice conclusion to our trip.
Each one of the four holy cities in the land of Israel is connected with one Creation’s elements. Hebron (earth), Tiberias (water), Jerusalem (fire) and Tzfat (air).
The Kabbalists say that the pristine and pure air of Tzfat, brings together a special spiritual atmosphere that overwhelms the senses. The magical air of Tzfat cleansed my soul.