December 3, 2013
Our first Shabbat in Israel was spent in the spiritually rich haven of Tsfat. As we made our way to a small shule hidden away in the narrow winding roads; the sun turned orange and began to descend behind the extensive hills.
Tsfat was transformed.
The dichotomy between the bustling streets filled with vibrant art and little carts lead by enthusiastic store keepers stocked with mouth watering shwarmas suddenly came to an abrupt halt as Shabbat was welcomed into the arms of the people of Tsfat. Every window shut, every door closed and not a single car driving through the cobble stone roads, the only sounds the noise of children Shabbat Zmirot on the streets and the warm hum of Nigunim.
We arrived at shule but never actually entered or even viewed the interior of the shule as it was so full that a makeshift mechitzah had to be put up outside in the streets. The large amount of space under the clear sky littered with stars beckoned to us, and so the boys swiftly linked arms and brought in Shabbat with such nachas that the majority of the congregation couldn’t hear prayer was coming from our own mouths! Singing Am Israel Chai, Tov Lehodot HaShem or even just a whole lot of lalalas I have never felt prouder, or sang louder in my life under a sky shared by so much ethnicities and religions, there in that moment I felt a pride that, perhaps due to the scarring experience that was Poland, is unforgettable. Right there a group of Jews, Sephardic, Ashkenzi, Chassidic and a large group of Australian Jews were in one ridiculously small area just to celebrate one thing, one commandment, to fullfill the mitzvah of Shabbat. It is this unity, this faith that causes the Jews to overflow synagogues and create a raucous in any public area that has kept our culture and religion alive for so many centuries.
After a delicious and fulfilling Shabbat meal we made our way downstairs to the Tisch room where the Shabbat Zmirot echoed off the walls until our eyes were closing. Excited by the news of a late wake up we went off to bed looking forward to our first Shabbat in our home land as IST.
After a pleasantly unusual 9 o'clock wake up IST made its way to the synagogue Ha’Ari; a historically rich shule that epitomises the miraculous nature of Tsfat. On the South facing wall of the Bimah is a small yet distinct hole made by a shard of shrapnel that went off near the shule whilst a Shabbat service was taking place during war-time. The person who was in front of the Bimah whilst the shell went off was bowing to the word “modim” when this deadly shard entered the shule missing his head by mere inches!
We then made our way back to the hostel and were greeted by a wonderful surprise; Rabbi Johnny! A famous teacher and Rabbi of Moriah College who recently left us to make Aliyah to the Land of Israel. We were lucky enough to be Rabbi Johnny’s audience as he explained to us the significance of Shomrei Negiah in his life giving us a small insight into the realms of Rabbi Johnny’s seemingly endless knowledge and wisdom.
It was an unusually peaceful but beautiful Shabbat that gave us the chance to become closer to each other, not as a group, but as an IST family. We experienced a wonderful Havdalah service, with our arms linked across one another, and hearts swelling with the knowledge that we had another 4 Shabbatot and weeks together. We have always learned so much about Israel, but before IST none of us could have known the extent to which it would change our outlook on our religion, our culture, and our heritage. I look so forward to the ensuing Shabbatot and weeks I have in this state that I am fortunate enough to call 'home'.