After the lovely experience in Shtula we had lovely dreams and awoke to birds singing in the little tree house in the North. The sun was shining and the view from the zimmer was the valley below.
The members of my family have a tradition of taking pictures of whatever view they happen to have from their hotel room. This was our spectacular view. The air was clean and fresh, with a wonderful atmosphere of peace, even though the rather unpeaceful Lebanese border was only a few hundred yards away.
Northern Israel always relaxes me and I feel like I can breathe when I am there. Don’t get me wrong, I live in a quiet little village, but I really feel like I have flown out of the country when I travel to the North. It is a different way of life up there.
The zimmer did not include breakfast, but they gave us a beautiful loaf of homemade bread, six eggs, two different kinds of homemade jam (mango and fig), butter, milk, fresh lemonade with fresh mint, a jug of water, coffee, and a selection of teas. They also had a beautiful pot of fresh sage to use for your morning omelet, to say nothing of lots of other fresh herbs growing right outside our cabin, such as za’atar, thyme and mint.
The zimmer is beautifully decorated . This lovely door leads to the loo: the inside view is even better.
There is a nice sitting area in the living room which contains a wood-burning fireplace and the kitchen nook. It was too warm to try out the fireplace, so we will have to find an excuse to come back in the winter.
They had several interesting items in corners of the living room and bedroom. One corner contained a cute lamp with a basket of various teas and another contained a slanted shelf with a covered bowl full of candy. In a nook near the jacuzzi there was a “genie” bottle filled with homemade ‘cherry sherry’ and two glasses. The sherry was delicious and was a perfect close after we got back from our Kurdish dinner.
After breakfast we headed to the ancient city of Tzfat, but about 4 kilometers from there we saw a sign for a winery in the village of Or HaGanuz. This spiritual-Kabbalistic settlement was founded in 1989. The name of the village means Hidden Light, and is derived from the kabbalah which refers to the original light described in the Bible that was the first act of creation (see Genesis 1:2). We had never heard of this winery, but we find it hard to pass up a chance to have a taste of wine. There are several signs that guide you directly to the winery and you can’t miss the large replica of an ancient amphora (an earthenware jug for oil or wine) at the front of the building.
We were greeted by a friendly face whose accent immediately gave away that he was a French speaker. It turned out he was originally from Tunisia, but his family is originally from Livorno, Italy. I joked that we could be related since I have some relatives who lived in Livorno. Giovanni Affricano, the winemaker of this winery, studied wine-making in France and Italy. He originally worked in education and decided to move to the North after he became religious and fulfill his dream of making wine.
After the tour of the winery, Giovanni let us sample five different wines, Sahar (Cabernet Sauvignon Premium), Glilee (Merlot), Torr (Sangiovese Cabernet), Nadiv (Cabernet Sauvignon) and a sweet dessert wine. All of the wines have a Mehadrin kashrut certification. Different types of Mehadrin certification for wine and food basically means that they are checked even more carefully for any non-kosher contaminants. In the case of Mehadrin slaughterhouses, the animals are checked more carefully than in normal kosher slaughterhouses for blemishes, especially of the lungs, that could make them unfit.
As for our wine tasting, we very much liked the Torr and Nadiv and bought a bottle of each. We thought the Glilee had too much tannin and the dessert wine was little too sweet for our taste. We are going to wait six months to a year before we open the wines we bought.
Tzfat is considered to be one of Judaism’s four holiest cities. It is known as the center of Jewish mysticism or kabbalah, not Madonna’s kabbalah, but the real thing, which is far from the commercialized version she adopted.
It is a poor city that is full of hippies, artists, followers of kabbalah (some who are sane and some who have lost their way), the deeply religious, and a smattering of secular people. It is a place which, if I stay too long, gives me an eerie feeling; a feeling of ancient ghosts who have yet to find their resting place. For others, it is a place of spiritual awakening.
We didn’t come to Tzfat this time to walk along its ancient streets, but rather to visit a museum that we just discovered in a guidebook; a museum that is near and dear to my husband, the Memorial Museum of Hungarian Speaking Jewry. I am constantly teasing Mr BT about how crazy the Hungarians are and I was afraid if I entered the museum that the crazy dust would begin to cover him and make him crazier than he already is ;-).
The museum, which is in a side building of the old Ottoman saraya, or police station, was established by two of the many Hungarian Jews who ended up in Tzfat after the Holocaust and is managed by Ron Lustig, their son. What is unusual about the Hungarian Jews is that the community has been there since the days of the Roman colony of Pannonia, centuries before the Magyars under Attila the Hun swept in from Central Asia. That made the Jews feel more Hungarian than the Hungarians, which resulted in their tremendous contribution to the country’s economic and cultural life from the mid-19th century until the Holocaust; but it also meant that they mistakenly didn’t feel threatened by the growth of Fascism from the 1920s and Admiral Horthy’s eventual alliance with Hitler. In fact, Horthy protected the Jews until 1944: even though they were forced into a ghetto, the Jews of Budapest continued a very active cultural life there, including theatre, a symphony orchestra and an opera house, in which my mother-in-law was one of the leading soloists. It was only after Horthy decided in early 1944 to switch sides because he foresaw Hitlers impending defeat that the Germans invaded the country and started deporting the Jews en masse, both to labor camps and to Auschwitz.
The museum includes artifacts from 18th century Jewish life onwards up to the time of the Holocaust, most of them the gifts of Hungarian Jews living all over the world. The most touching of all is a braid of blond hair cut from the head of a young girl a few days before she and her mother were sent to Auschwitz to be murdered there. Ron told us and some other visitors that he received the braid, together with a few other keepsakes of the girl and her mother, from the father who had survived the Holocaust, with a letter saying “this is the whole of my life.” Ron wrote back to thank the donor, but received a reply from someone else saying that the donor had died only two days after sending the letter, perhaps knowing that he had only enough time left to leave his memories of his beloved wife and child to the museum.
Mr BT was happy to discover that the museum’s extensive computer system included an entry for his grandfather, who was a distinguished pedagogue in Hungary, and that the museum also had a copy of his semi-autobiographical novel The Five Books of Aaron. There was also a photograph from 1939 of a class at the Jewish high school in Budapest, in which Mr BT thinks he identified his grandmother, who was one of the teachers there.
After the very moving and sometimes tearful visit to the museum, we decided to have a light snack in the Druze village of Hurfeish before heading back to the zimmer to rest before heading out for dinner.
Hurfeish, pronounced Khurfeish, is situated in the heart of the Galilee just to the north of Mount Meron. The site is from the Byzantine era and the current village has existed for about 500 years. The origin of the town’s name is unknown, but it is assumed that it is derived from the family of Al-Khrafsha that settled there. It is a lovely village with a popular stand called Sambusak HaArazim. They take dough and roll it out in a thin circle, fill it with lamb or tuna, or labane and za’atar, fold it half and bake it in a large gas-fired oven. They are delicious and I highly recommend making a stop here. You may not be able to stop at one: I had to stop Mr BT from ordering another one. I was so hungry at that point, I forgot to take a picture of the stand and of the sambusak.
After a couple of hours of rest, we drove back to Hurfeish for dinner (this time taking the main road instead of the gravel track between the hills from the back of Hurfeish to Matat). We thought we were going to a Druze restaurant, but just like the previous night, we discovered that the restaurant was actually our host’s living room. This time our host was Nimr Nimr, a retired Druze teacher, who now works as a tour guide. Nimr Nimr, by the way, is Arabic for Leopard Leopard: names like this are quite common among the Druze, another one being Assad Assad, which means Lion Lion.
The Druze are ethnic Arabs who broke away from Islam to form their own religion at the beginning of the 11th century and are regarded by Muslims as heretics. They live mainly in Lebanon, Syria and Israel, although there are emigre communities in the United States and South America. In Israel, the Druze do national service in the Army, some rising to very high ranks.
Dinner was delicious, the usual combination of meze, salads, and grilled meat. But what was special was the hospitality, something for which the Druze are rightly famous. It wasn’t just the warm welcome that we received from Nimr and his wife Samiha, but the amazing tennis match of conversation that I thoroughly enjoyed watching between him and Mr BT, which ranged from Druze history to modern Middle Eastern politics to literature to Israel’s social problems. Although pretending to just be an ordinary man, Nimr is obviously educated way beyond the average for Israelis of any background or religion: he was quoting from Shai Agnon, the first Israeli to win a Nobel Prize (for literature), and in Aramaic from the Mishnah, and from time-to-time would jump up to pull a book from his very well stocked library to illustrate a point. I could have stayed on for hours just to gorge on the fresh figs and homemade maamoul filled with walnuts that Samiha brought to the table; Mr BT could have easily stayed on all night talking to Nimr. It is an evening I will never forget.