Shabbat Hospitality in Tzfat

Visiting Tzfat on Shabbat

Tzfat is a tourist town.  The combination of Tzfat's location on a mountaintop with a stunning view of Israel's Galilee, it's quaint cobbled lanes and stone buildings, its history, religious sites and art galleries have come together to make it an obligatory stop for tourists in Israel.

There are dozens of hotels, hostels, guest houses and other options for accommodations in Tzfat. Guests who prepare for a stay in Tzfat on Shabbat either bring food with them or arrange to eat at a hotel dining room, as no groceries or eateries are open on Shabbat in Tzfat.

However, many visitors, especially young tourists who are not aware of the Shabbat atmosphere and restrictions on commercial trade during Shabbat. arrive at their lodgings with no plans for their Shabbat meals.

This is the point that Shabbat hospitality comes into play. Hundreds of families throughout the city are known for their willingness to host guests for Shabbat meals. They are called, often at short notice, by organizations, institutions and individuals who work throughout the week to "set up" visitors for Shabbat meals.

Army-like Precision and Organization

The ASCENT institute is one such organization, which calls host families throughout the week to arrange for Shabbat meal accommodations. People phone ASCENT during the week to announce their plans for a Shabbat in Tzfat, and to ask if they can be hosted for meals.

ASCENT's staff works with army-like precision, going through their lists to find each visitor a host family for the Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch. They make sure to match the guests up with families who speak the same language and, especially for guests who are unfamiliar with Orthodox Judaism, with families who are easy-going and adept at making guests feel welcome.

Guests are sent out in pairs, armed with instructions of which time the family will be eating, their address, and a map of Tzfat.  Even so, people get lost, and it's not uncommon to hear of guests who turned up at their host family at dessert-time.

Other organizations in Tzfat arrange for home hospitality for their program participants, such as the Livnot U'Lehibanot Israel Program. Livnot participants usually write on their evaluations that their interactions with their Tzfat hosts were the highlight of their program, and many have been known to stay in touch with their hosts long after their program finishes.

Students at local yeshivas and seminaries also enjoy making the rounds of the homes, and, obviously, some homes (and some cooks) are quite preferred!

Some unusual stories have come about as a result of home hospitalities. One young woman was hosted in Tzfat by a family that she found out, years later, were her cousins. Matches have been made among the people sitting around Shabbat tables as well.

One of the most unusual stories took place when the conversation at one Shabbat table turned to talk about the music scene, and eventually, discussion of various bands. The people sitting around the table began to discuss the Grateful Dead - it turned out that both the hosts and the guests were fans.

One of the guests declared that he had once attended a concert of the Grateful Dead "which was so weird...there was a couple that got up on stage at the concert and got married there!" The hosts looked at each other and then admitted "that was us".