Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mother's Northern Tour, Day 3: Safed and Acre

For our third day of our tour through northern Israel, we went to some sites that were particularly important in the Middle Ages.  These are not sites that many people who come to Israel come to see if they come primarily because of biblical interests.  We regularly take students to Acco, also known as Acre (C on the map to the left), however, and I have been eager to go to Safed, also known as Sfat (B on the map), for a long time.

Safed is one of the four holy cities of Judaism, the others being Hebron, Jerusalem, and Tiberias.  Hebron and Jerusalem are important for obvious reasons, with the one containing the sites of the biblical patriarchs and several matriarchs, and the other, of course, being the place of the temple.  Tiberias became sacred beginning at the end of the second century, because this is where Babylonian Talmud was assembled and where the standard, vocalized text of the Hebrew Bible was established.  Safed, on the other hand, became important as the center of Jewish mysticism after the fifteen century, when many influential rabbis settled there and where buried there.

Those who have read Michael Crichton's The Source will remember how chapter 14, "The Saintly Men of Safed," portrayed Safed as a center of mystical Judaism and then how the second-to-last chapter recounted the strategic role it played in the 1948 War of Independence. At almost 3,000 feet, Safed is the highest city in Galilee and dominates the entire region.  "Safed Blue," the color of heaven, is a common color found in the city and especially on the most important of tombs.  Because we did  not have a lot of time, and because the city is not particularly wheelchair-friendly, most of our time there was spent driving around the Old City, with Lindsay, Rachel, and I jumping out of the car sometimes to take pictures.

Safed sits on the top of the mountains northwest of the Sea of Galilee

From Safed, one can see all the way down to the Sea of Galilee. Though the day is hazy, Tiberias actually appears in the arm of the sea as a cluster of white buildings
An abandoned building is a token of the 1948 War

The only resident of said building is a hyrax, known in the KJV as a "coney"

A building from the era of the British Mandate
Sefad remains an important center of orthodox and mystical Judaism. These young men were walking around with a golden banner that sported a crown and the title Mashiach, or "Messiah"

Stairs take the places of streets in many parts of old Sfat. In the British-era, one set of stairs (not necessarily these) divided the Arab section of the town from the Jewish portion.
This minaret is one of the last remaining signs of the once-vibrant Arab community
At the end, we parked at the bottom of the hill at the amazing Jewish cemetery . . . the higher parts  of the cemeteries included very old tombs, the most important being marked with blue, and the lower being the new section with recent burial.

Old sections of the cemetery above, new below

Though some rabbis' and saints' tombs are centuries old, they are still kept painted Safed Blue

Hands in the position of blessing mark the grave of a kohen or priest

A felled tree often signifies someone who died young, cut off prematurely
Many graves are marked with a lamp

Aba and Ima graves mark "Father" and "Mother"
We hurriedly drove to Akko after that, the ancient seaport known in the Crusader era as Saint-Jean d'Acre.  The only place we could stop to eat (where Samuel would also eat the food) was at a mall along the highway.  Thank you, that resulted in a seventy dollar McDonald's lunch (things are regularly twice as expensive, or more, here than at home).

Well, at least Samuel was happy with the overpriced meal

Because many sites close early on Friday afternoons in advance of Shabbat, we needed to quickly check into our guest house so that we could get into the Crusader Citadel before it closed.

Rachel chasing a rooster in the Citadel gardens
One of the tunnels of the fortress

We then walked through the Old Market, saw a Turkish-era khan or caravansery, and the famous Al-Jaeffer Mosque.

The smell of seafood led Samuel to declare that "this was a bad store!"
Can you believe that we were able to wheel Mother through this? Three cheers for Lindsay

The final place we went before dinner as the seafront, which really gave us stunning views, even if the uneven pavement gave Mom's chair some challenges . . .

After our market and sea walk, we were all worn out.  We went back to our guesthouse, which was new and wonderfully positioned next to the Citadel but still overwhelmingly like a college dorm. The old city of Akko today is still largely Arab, whereas the rest of the city is Jewish. After napping in our rooms, we were too tired to walk through the Old City again.  However, once Sabbath had started, almost everything in the rest of the city was closed!  Driving out of town, we found a small Arab restaurant decorated for Christmas, where we got another one of those oriental salads, mixed grills dinners.

Yes, like a dorm room, but Samuel loved sleeping in bunk beds!

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