There were magnificent fireworks every night at 10:00. That delighted me – I can never get enough fireworks. But in the street I saw two local children about 7 and 8 years old get hysterical over the booming noises. Post-trauma stress from the 2nd Lebanon War, when a sharp ripping noise followed by a boom meant destruction and death close by. Their dad couldn’t convince them to look up and see that it was only fireworks. They put their hands over their ears and screamed, begging to go home. He gave up and almost carried the two kids back.
The last Klezmer I attended was 7 years ago, when I still lived in Tsfat. There had been a bus bombing in nearby Meron just a few days prior to the festival, effectively sabotaging it. I remember the dark, almost empty streets at night, with a few vendors turning out their wares in hopes of a sale. Most of the performances were indoors and almost no tourists came. This year, contemplating the huge crowds, I did think a few times about a possible terrorist attack – as I’m sure many did. But the small town was swarming with security, both plain-clothes and uniformed. The tentative political quiet prevailing right now favored us too.
Staged concerts went on till 1:00 AM.
But knots of informal performances kept going wherever it pleased folks to stay up.
The Lubavitcher Mitzvah-Mobile was out.
And just in case you forgot, a sign reminded you to “Love Thy Neighbor as You Do Yourself.”
By the third night, I’d had enough of the streets and the crowds. A group of friends got a car convoy together to go viewing the Perseids – meteor showers of the Swift-Tuttle comet, which were at the peak of visibility that night. We needed to be away from light pollution, so chose to view the sky on a hilltop about 15 minutes away from Tsfat. We drove out and upward till asphalt gave way to a dirt road, and parked by a dark field.
We’d brought sky maps, flashlights covered in red cellophane, sandwiches, tea in thermoses, and wine. Some had brought big mats and sleeping bags, which we spread out on the thorny dirt. We settled down, talking but little as the dark and the silence, broken only by crickets and distant drumming from an Arab wedding, settled around us again.
In central Israel, I am surrounded by buildings every day. I’ve gotten used to missing contact with nature, and gasp to see a few stars on a clear night. That night, lying on my back in a thorny field and freezing, I let go of time and just lived. A great Hand had flung the white veil of the Milky Way, sprinkled here and there with radiant dots, across the dark heavens; constellations were so close they seemed to walk over us. Brilliant Jupiter presided, apart. Whenever a shooting star crossed the multitude in the sky, we on the ground oohed in unison.
At 10:00, we heard distant booms and sat up – it was the fireworks in Tsfat. I’d never seen fireworks from far off. The showers of colored lights took up hardly any space in the sky and looked contained, compared to the wildness of the spreading galaxies above them.
It broke up our silence, and we began to talk quietly. Some of us recited poetry. (I was cultured and gave “The Owl and the Pussycat” – the only poem I know by heart.) We talked about the great plantings of new vineyards in the country, and if it was good for the soil. Others told stories. Eventually, a yellow half moon rose and hung low on the horizon, shedding light, absorbing some of the star’s display.
At about 1:00, we packed up and returned to Tsfat. I was regretful. Although I’d been uncomfortable in the cold, I would have stayed longer. But my friends weren’t on vacation like me and had to get up as usual next day. It had been a wonderful, soul-satisfying thing to do.
Any time I go back to Tsfat, I take photos. Here are some daytime picture I took (my night-time ones are lousy, I know).
A painted sign outside the Sanz synagogue reminds you to give charity.
R. Yerushalayim, the main street of this small town, post-Klezmer.
R. Tarpat, where we stayed.
Out-of-towners set up a “Hookah Tent,” where I suppose they put other things than tobacco in their bubbling hookahs. What is this craze for the hookah, anyway, I ask. As a non-smoker, I can only suppose it’s pleasant.
Wild grapevines thrive in Tsfat, spilling black fruit over walls everywhere.
As do figs and pomegranates.
There is an extensive artist’s quarter, and lots of galleries.
But sometimes art just happens spontaneously.
And someone scrawled this little graffito:
The Yosef Caro synagogue is smack in the middle of the Artist’s Shuk.
It’s worth visiting to see the ancient Torah scrolls and to breathe in the atmosphere.
We didn’t eat out much on this trip. I had free run of my hostess’s kitchen and permission to entertain other friends, so I shopped on arrival and cooked. Actually I roasted 4 chickens and made a great stew of potatoes and sweet potatoes with onions and herbs. As guests came, they brought salads and drinks. I also baked: an improvised walnut bread. Here it is. If I can remember how I did it, I’ll post the recipe.
Our magical three days in Tsfat are behind us, but I did bring home a renewed appreciation for the slower pace of life there, the shedding of an almost obligatory tension that you feel in the industrial center. Long may it last.