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Eerie, yet beautiful

Prior to August 2023, despite visiting Israel on several occasions, I had never been to Tzfat (or Zefad, Safed or various other English spellings depending on which sign you see). It's an incredibly popular tourist destination with a bustling old city and famous artists' quarter selling all sorts of judaica, Jewish and non-Jewish art and jewellery. Virtually every seminary and yeshiva student will spend a Shabbat there in their gap year in Israel. Which is all to say, it's usually magnificently busy.


It's not longer busy. The buses that queue up to enter the city early in the morning and then again to leave at night are nowhere to be seen. The artists' quarter is mostly completely shut with very few stores open and even fewer people milling around. There's an eerie silence around the city. It's disconcerting and a sad result of a war that people are trying to ignore. Day to day live continues as best it can; rocket sirens are just part of the normal now. But the silence. You can't escape the silence.


I've described Tzfat as the Venice of Israel - without the canals. It's beautiful. It's old. There's a huge art scene. At any given time, in normal times, there are more tourists than locals. And much like Venice is dying, sinking into the sea and desperately trying to respond to a new normal (in Venice's case, of climate change), Tzfat is getting used to its own new normal. The tourists will return, of course they will, but for now. It's a weird, quiet, disconcerting place to visit. As soon as you can, though, I would hop on a plane and come see it for yourself. Bring a decent pair of shoes because you'll want to walk everywhere, and everywhere is somehow uphill irrespective of where you started. When busy and bustling, it's everything that is beautiful about Israel. Everyone is your family (for better or worse!). Strangers help strangers. The place is stunning. There's an abundance of good food and things to see. If you're looking for a new piece of art or beautiful judaica, there is no better place in the world. No one quite knows how to drive or the width of their cars.


It's all a little bit mad. But it sort of makes sense, in its own way.

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