Glimpses of Israel - Safed

by Joy Hunting

Safed, or Tsefat, is situated over nine hundred metres above sea level on Mount Canaan, Israel's highest plateau, and it has a long history dating back into antiquity. It is often referred to as a sacred city, as it was the home of rabbinical scholars and sages, and many of their tombs are there.

The city has had its share of disasters over the centuries. Last century in 1833 it was attacked and destroyed, and in 1837 a terrible earthquake levelled the city, and four thousand died, mostly buried amongst the ruins.

During the British Mandate the town was beset by hostile Arab neighbours, and at the commencement of the War of Independence it was inhabited by twelve thousand Arabs and seventeen hundred Jews, mostly elderly pious scholars who clung to the town for the sake of its former associations.

It took a detachment of about one hundred and twenty partisans to infiltrate the city and take it in spite of the fact that all the strategic positions surrounding the city were in enemy hands, including the Taggart Fort vacated by the departing British force. The home-made mortar, the famous Davidka, played a vital role in scaring the Arabs, who fled as one man. At the time it was considered a miracle of the War of Liberation.

On the War Memorial in Safed these days the Davidka is erected, and on the side of the memorial are the words from Jeremiah 1:18: "For behold, I have made thee this day a fortified city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land ..."

Safed is a popular place for artists; there is quite a colony of them, with their studios in narrow streets and in odd corners. It is also a popular place for tourists and summer holidays as with its altitude it boasts cool breezes and respite from summer heat.

Its views far away to the Sea of Galilee are also spectacular on a clear day, and one can often see to the Huleh Valley and Mount Hermon. Unlike Israel's other bustling cities, Safed has been bypassed in the rush that has swept Israel into the end of the twentieth century.