By: Hillel Kuttler
On a hot July night in most of the country, the soft breezes gracing Tzfat make the third-floor porch in Efrayim and Sara Leah Stark’s Tzfat apartment plenty comfortable. Two couples and one-half of another are acquaintances. A fourth couple and their one-year-old son don’t know the others, but the husband’s work as a tour guide intrigues everyone – to the extent that they provide him with referrals.
The Starks’ residence in the Givat Shoshana neighborhood is a short walk from the town’s old city, home to an artists’ colony and to legendary synagogues that draw visitors year-round to Tzfat, population 30,000.
Between crunches of sweet watermelon, the Tzfat residents express fondness for their adopted town and for the North generally.
Deb Freeland (immigrant from Pittsburgh): My husband and I love the mountains. We were very fascinated with Tzfat. The altitude here is nice. It’s beautiful. We found that this community is a perfect size for us. We found an Anglo community here that is so lovely, warm and nurturing. It’s been a wonderful four years.
Sarah Leah Stark (Cleveland): I’d visited about 30 years ago on a trip to Israel and absolutely loved Tzfat – but I never dared to dream I’d end up here. We made Aliyah and were living in Jerusalem, but knew we didn’t want to stay in Jerusalem. We were looking for a community where we’d fit. One of our kids found out that an Ulpan [Hebrew-language instruction center] had just started in Tzfat. I said, “Efrayim, pack your bags. We’re going to Tzfat for Shabbos.” I quickly went onto Tzfatline, an Anglo-posting group [on Yahoo], and asked whether anybody would be able to host us. We got 12 phone calls from people offering to host us. I said to Efrayim, “This is where we have to live. It’s amazing.”
It was that kind of openness and hospitality that we have really tried to recreate in our own lives since we moved here. People from all walks of Judaism sit and learn and daven together in a way I’ve never seen anywhere in the world. It’s one of the things that makes Tzfat so special, and I think it’s because it’s a holy city. It’s a unique feeling of unity.
Yisroel Ber Kaplan (Brooklyn): One of Tzfat’s big draws is it seems to be the creative and spiritual epicenter not only of Israel, but of the universe: artists, musicians, every kind of medium you can imagine in terms of fine arts. You have over 100 synagogues here. People work hard to make Tzfat an amazing place to live.
Chaya Kaplan (Yisroel Ber’s wife): It’s very palpable, the spirituality you feel in the air. When we first came here, I felt I was in a storybook, walking on the cobblestone streets of the old city. The view of the Kinneret, the beauty of the sunsets and sunrises – they’re gorgeous.
Yisroel Ber: They say that Nachal Amud is one of the most beautiful hikes you can do in Israel. It goes from Tzfat to Meron and further south. I’ve done a good portion of it.
Adam Bodenstein (Los Angeles): In terms of Tzfat and the area, when you talk about touring and enjoying the region, you basically have everything in every kind of category. So, whether it’s for pure pleasure, archeology, religious history, modern Israeli history, hikes galore – from Tzfat you can get there very quickly, within a half-hour in every direction. I take [clients] up to the Golan Heights, bird watching in the Hula Valley, water hikes in the Banias, the Kinneret. There’s plenty to do.
Tamar (Adam’s wife, holding Yonatan, 1): There are two cheeseries: Kadosh and HaMe’iri. HaMe’iri has a museum and a tour; they’re all goat cheese. There are boutique wineries: Yayin Tzfat and Abuhav.
Sarah Leah: There’s a boutique brewery, Mystic Mountain, which makes really delicious beers.
Yisroel Ber: One guy opened a store on the midrechov [pedestrian-only street]: a hat-and-wine store! It’s called Sherlocks.
Adam: The city has been trying to ramp up their cultural offerings, with subscriptions for plays, shows and performances at Beit Yigal Allon.
Tamar: There’s a beautiful English-language library and an English-language theater group.
Efrayim: Tzfat doesn’t have a movie theater, but Beit Yigal Allon brings in movies twice a week. There’s also a Klezmer Festival in August.
Yisrael Ber: The artists’ colony is thriving year-round. Tzfat is very much on tourists’ agenda.
Adam: There are several English-speaking Facebook and WhatsApp groups. There are a lot of different circles in Tzfat. Tzfat is big enough that, if you want to, you can be anonymous; and small enough that you can know everybody.
PHOTO (credit: Hillel Kuttler): Tzfat olim (from left): Efrayim and Sarah Leah Stark; Yisroel Ber and Chaya Kaplan; and Adam, Tamar and little Yonatan Bodenstein.