Israel Day 5: Maya Cohen

The intensity of the past two weeks has finally calmed down, having undergone such tremendous highs and lows. I can really see that the group is starting to become more comfortable with one another, and you can tell new friendships are forming, as people begin to have a myriad of conversations. It's crazy to realise that we have only been travelling for two weeks, and the changes each of us has undergone in such a short time really shows the true power of this journey. 
In the next 24 hours we will be privileged enough to have visited three of the four holiest cities for our people; Tiberius, Jerusalem and Tzfat, our destination for Shabbat. The word Tzfat translates to the meaning 'to look' or 'to scope,' and as I looked out into the beautiful mountainous landscape while driving up to the city, I noticed how the peaks of the mountains created the most beautiful wave, along with the rolling hills of this holy land. 
The Gemara says that when you arrive to the 'World to Come' G-d asks you three questions; "Have you dealt faithfully? Have you set aside time for Torah study? And did you expect redemption?" And this last question is the essential question of Tzfat. The true essence of Tzfat and its people is their belief in the coming of the Moshiach. This holy city revolves around their real anticipation of the coming of the Moshiach, and on repairing the world, Tikkun Olam, in order to bring redemption upon this world. 
It was a beautiful, warm day with clear skies and a slight breeze. As I walked off the bus the first thing that caught my eyes were the distinct, recognisable blue doors juxtaposed with the glowing whiteness of the stones. The meaning behind this stems from a non-Jewish custom of warding off evil. We began by walking up the first of many stairs to the Sephardi Shule called 'Abuhav'. 
As we entered the Shule I was drawn to the beautifully detailed ceilings - the edges were crafted so artfully by hand, decorated with vibrant floral patterns and paintings of trees, and musical instruments relating to Hallelujah (harps, flutes and other instruments). The blue Bimah stood humbly but brightly, elevated in the centre of the room. The marble floors were crafted by distinct geometrical patterns and shapes. This Shule embodied a sense of warmth, uniqueness and tranquility, a true expression of the rest of the city.
Whilst looking at the fine, iconic jewellery and artwork which were all so distinct and unique to this place, the echoes of the guitar and flute flew through the narrow corridors. The smell of pomegranate, orange, cinnamon and apple cider gave this place such a rich character. Searching for the source of an irresistible smell of warm bread, we arrived to an authentic Yemenite place to eat, and the food was indescribable. They made a semolina and wheat wrap with local cheeses, tomatoes, za'atar and onions. Everyone joked and said it was the "La Piadina of Tzfat". The chef kindly but funnily taught us the four sounds of the throat and we tried terribly to pronounce what we were eating. Not only was it the sight, smell and sound that gave Tzfat it's true character but now it was also it's taste. 
Luckily the girls got the opportunity to take a tour through the Mikvah. We were taken by a guide and stopped beside a small door in one of the alleyways; you would have never have thought this was the door to a Mikvah. We entered the dimly lit arched corridor, and were taken around the facility. Although it didn't seem too palatial inside, we knew this was a holy place where people came to truly cleanse themselves and it made it that bit more special. During our final meditation in the Mikvah, our lovely tour guide said something that really stayed with me; "There's a privilege in your life, notice where it comes from". A somber silence fell upon us as she said those words and I really hope that all of us girls will remember that important message.  
The Kabbalat Shabbat service was born in Tzfat with the Kabbalists going out into the forest to welcome the Shabbat bride, so this Shabbat we're going to be 'opening the door', opening our hearts to redemption and positivity.  We, here on IST, and our families back home, must come to the realisation that Shabbat is waiting for us to bring it into our own lives and we're the ones who need to grapple to experience the pure tranquility of Shabbat. So this Shabbat, while we sing the words of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, we will all be igniting even the smallest, but most special sparks of Shabbat. 


Israel Day 6: Julia Jacobson:

Israel Day 4: Sabrina Penkin