Thing #1 is a hard decision we made last night, late at night, in Tzfat, over yummy Asian food: we’re putting the children back in school.
(As a family who loves homeschooling, that’s a tough decision. I’ve decided to keep posts about homeschooling over at my other blog, and if you’re interested, you can read about why we won’t be homeschooling in Israel this year.)
Thing #2 is Tzfat.
So why is Tzfat not “us”?
I wanted to say it’s not “me,” but my husband has graciously gone along with me on this.
Tzfat is a wonderful city, and we both adore it. We met it first on our pilot trip, but I’d heard tons about it before that from all the travellers who’d been there and raved. This included my mother and just about every woman from our shul.
Women love this place, I must warn you.
(Men do, too, but for some reason, women love to come back to North America and talk about it non-stop.)
What’s so special about Tzfat?
But “special” can be both a good and a bad thing.
My unofficial motto for the city is:
Tzfat: No Rules Apply.
This starts with the bus ride to Tzfat, which not only never comes on time, it lies. When our train arrived in Akko, I called the magic phone number to find out when when the next 361 bus was coming and it said “39 minutes.”
Groan. They come every 45 minutes, so that meant we had just missed one.
So we stomped back through security into the train station to wait (it was way over 40 degrees in the tiny no-shade bus shelter). And four minutes later, as we sat looking out the windows of the train station… the bus rumbled on past, not even stopping.
Leading to my cementing in my mind Motto #2:
The Tzfat Bus: No Rules Apply
The bus to Tzfat never comes on time, never leaves on time, and never takes the same amount of time to make the trip. So much depends on the driver. Oh, yeah, and it never costs the same thing to take the bus there, either.
Four times there and back in the last 4 months, and there has not been a single time we haven’t argued with the driver to try to get him to charge the same thing the last driver charged. Some give a discount for children; some give a discount for round-trip tickets. The only constant is that no two drivers do the same thing.
(If we show them the last receipt showing what we paid, they always shake their head and say the last driver shouldn’t have done it that way.)
Once you finally pay and make it to Tzfat, you’re faced with a crazy roundabout that spins you like Alice in Wonderland. Which way is the city? It’s nowhere in sight.
Directions in Tzfat: No Rules Apply
Maps take this “rule” seriously and play fast and loose with the north arrow, placing it wherever they want, pointing in whatever direction allows the the map to fit the dimensions of the page.
Arriving fairly late on Friday afternoon, we decided to save the shlep and take a cab to our tzimmer (b&b without the b). I told him the name; sure, he’d heard of it. Told him the address, just in case. Fine, fine. We hopped in and were off – driving quite a way before I suggested that I really thought it was in the old city, not out of the city entirely.
Turned out it was another guesthouse with a similar name. He called dispatch, who had also never heard of either the tzimmer or the street it was on. He told me, “call and I’ll talk to them.” So I dialled the tzimmer and let him talk. She assured him that she really was in the old city and he told her we’d be there in five minutes.
Which we were, sort of.
My point being that even though it’s a very small town, nobody knows where anything is. So being lost in Tzfat is just par for the course, even if you’re an old-timer there.
Now, after spending 3 days there, we’re getting better at navigating, or at least, at not getting lost and bickering too much. But we’re still not making plans to move there anytime soon.
So here’s what we absolutely love about the city:
- Scenery. The city, first of all, is beautiful. Small enough to walk around in the main part of town (once you find it), lots of charming old stone and views like nowhere else in the world. It is truly and uniquely… Israel.
- Air. The fresh mountain air brings you back to life after spending a year on the muggy coast. The evening air is even more wonderful; cool, refreshing… just the perfect “shirtsleeves” weather everyone dreams of. I cannot understate just how precious it is to feel cool, moving, natural air after 2 months of coastal mugginess.
- More air. Our friends live on the seventh floor of their building and get breezes from three directions. Even during one of Israel’s hottest weeks this summer, they didn’t need their air conditioning on for us to all eat in comfort – even warm foods, even soup.
- Centuries of history and spirituality. Weirdly, I’m not too into either of those things. But lots of people are. It makes the city feel very deep, in important ways, just about everywhere you go.
- It is an insanely friendly city. If you were the type, you could make ten new best friends in your first few hours (I’m not). I was wished “Shabbat Shalom” more times in one evening than the sum total of my last twelve months in Israel.
- Jewish but not too Jewish. How could a city with thousands of shtreimels bristling from every corner be not too Jewish? When I asked my friend there if the streets were closed on Shabbos (an obsession of Naomi Rivka’s), she said, “No. But not many people drive.” It’s exactly true. Not many people drive. Those who do drive with restraint. Those who don’t, don’t throw stones or shout at those who do. My husband says, “it’s like a taste of Jerusalem… but less secular.”
- English library. Need I say more? But I will! It’s in a storefront, on the main drag. English-speaking librarians, friendly but strict. How could we not fall in love?
And here’s why we have no plans to move there anytime soon:
- Far away from everywhere. It’s perched at the top of a mountain, far, far away from the centre of the country. To get there or back, you have to barrel up or down the mountain, or put your life in the hands of a driver who will do the barrelling up or down for you.
- Loopy people. It’s famous for spirituality, and has been for centuries. That’s guaranteed to attract at least a few people with slightly loose marbles. Our friends excepted, of course.
- Poverty. Surprise, surprise. The loopy, lovely, wonderful, loving, spiritual people move to the middle of nowhere… and there are no jobs. This makes everything in the city feel very run-down. And that, weirdly, seems to drive prices up – we paid ₪50 for a pizza that would have cost us maybe ₪30-something across the street for our house.
- Curvy streets. I love all the straight lines where we live! After our pilot trip, I sort of gave up on living anywhere with straight streets, so it was a pleasure to discover (seemingly) the one place that has them. (Tel Aviv does, too, but there, they go off – straight – in all kinds of wonky directions.)
- No rules. Maybe we’d get used to the chaos? Maybe I’d eventually mellow out, and just smile and shrug, like I do with some of my odder relatives? Maybe so… but I think the city would drive me nuts long before that.
I have been married to Akiva for over a decade now, and we were together long before that, and I have never heard him utter this phrase before last night, about anywhere: “It’s a nice place to visit… but I wouldn’t want to live here.”
Tzfat is more than a nice place. It’s a wonderful, magical place. But we will not be living there anytime soon.
Tzivia / צִיבְיָה