Sometime just after college, I spent six weeks backpacking around Israel on my own. I didn’t have any itinerary, and at some point found myself in Tzfat, a northern hilltop town where a number of important Kabbalistic thinkers and great rabbis settled after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. At my hostel, I ended up chatting with an archaeology grad student who was working on a dig about an hour south. She told me that if I wanted to come with her, they might let me work on it, too.
As they say in Hebrew, למה לא? [“Lamah lo”, or “why not?”]
I took the bus down with her, they put me up in an apartment with several other grad students, and I worked for about a week, digging alongside a couple of old Arab men and a few other grad students. The site has been continuously occupied for 7,000 years, and I learned some amazing bits of history, and got to experience the first hand wonder of unearthing the past.
Twenty-five years later, I returned to Tzfat with my wife and son, and continued down to Beit She’an.
Our time in Tzfat was dominated, as much of our trip has been, with trying to find food that Michelle and Zevin could eat (no gluten, no potatoes, no dairy, no eggs, and then trying to minimize corn and soy), and we had a little bit of success. It took some doing, but the irregularly houred Elements Cafe was a hit: their sprouted buckwheat and sunflower crust pizza was delicious, as was their hearty vegetable soup and muffin. Plus, their coconut milk ice cream was, as advertised, the best on the planet. [And the conversation with the young couple working there, American and Australian Jews re-settled in Tzfat to be close to the great rebbes, was warm and informative, as well.]
We spent two days there in a little cave of an Airbnb, hosted by the cheerful and exuberant Zalman (who guided me in wearing tefillin for the first time in a dozen or more years), and then continued on down to Beit She’an.
The area is amazing in its breadth. The top of the hill holds ruins dating back to the Chalcolithic era (Copper Age, about 5,000 years ago), and on the plains below Roman and Byzantine ruins have been unearthed in remarkably preserved conditions. Although the temperatures lapped up in the mid to upper 90’s, Zevin managed to rally long enough to have some fun checking out the amazing acoustics of the Roman amphitheater.
That was it for him, though. I wandered around the grounds, scraping up long buried memories, and reading bits of history, but we packed back into the car pretty quickly and made our way towards our last Israeli stop, Tel Aviv.