I remember Safed, the historic Upper Galilean town of Jewish mystics, chiefly for its wide stone staircases. We traversed them, my Israeli friend Yan and I, in the gathering twilight of a warmish day in March, 2011 spent driving from one attraction to another. Yan preferred getting it all in; I wished for more time in one place.
And I got that time in Safed. I can still picture the staircases and the people who surrounded us going up and down the steps, until we found what we were looking for, through a darkening alley, a very old Sephardic synagogue whose name I don’t remember. With its baby-blue bima in the center of the room with the canopy effect of the wooden ceiling painted with sky scenes.
Built after the many Jews who came in 1492 when they were expelled from Spain, not before, though some had lived there all along—which is to say despite the Roman expulsion hundreds of years before.
The holy city of Safed, it’s called, the home of the sparks of Kabbalah mysticism. Perched on a mountaintop about three thousand feet above sea level and on its slopes, it is also the highest city in Israel. You could lose yourself in its narrow, one-way cobblestone streets and narrower cobblestone alleys and we almost did several times.
The ancient city lingers in memory almost nine years later and it always will.