by Abby Prince
“Shalom Aleichem, mal’achei hasharet, mal’achei elvon” were the words that we heard blasting from the stereo as we pulled over to the side of the road to pick up our tour guide. This song, traditionally sung to welcome the Jewish Shabbat and sung by the family as they gather around the dinner table, was blasting from the little radio that our guide was carrying around with him throughout our tour. “Shalom! Welcome to Safed!” Our tour guide’s excitement and joyful spirits, as well as the beautiful shades of blue painted all over the city, were the first things that struck me about the city of Safed. The color blue, symbolic because it is reminiscent of the sky as well as God’s vastness and power, covered much of the space, creating a beautiful and colorful display. Our tour consisted of an overview of the city’s rich history and some of the most well-known sights located there. We stopped to see an old synagogue that had been there since as early as 1522. It was great to see such beautiful history that is so important the Jewish people. We also explored some old underground tunnels that ended in a cozy little bakery. We sat in one of these underground rooms while our tour guide pulled out a Shofar, what he explained to us was a Jewish horn used for religious ceremonies. He proceeded to show us a few of the typical sounds that can be made on the horn and the meanings of each of them. I even had the opportunity to give it a try! I quickly discovered that it was not as easy as it looked – I could barely get a single sound out of it!
After we finished our tour, we spent some time walking around the markets streets to look for little gifts. The streets were filled with homemade crafts, art, and all kinds of jewelry. We spent lots of time looking at everything and talking to the artisans about how they made their products. One of the stores that we went into was a homemade wax and candle shop. There was a woman there who was twisting and molding the wax into a candle, and we also saw several intricate wax sculptures depicting different Biblical scenes such as David and Goliath. We also stopped for lunch at the best shwarma place that I have ever been to! Our trip to Safed was an incredibly fun educational and cultural experience.
The second part of our trip was rafting down an outlet of the Jordan River. When I first heard about this, I had imagined huge rapids and a wide river, but in reality, our experience was much more calm. We took turns rowing and pointing out wildlife that we saw, like turtles and beautiful birds. About halfway through, we saw a heard of cows just hanging out on the bank! This trip was such a fun bonding experience with the group. We had such a great time exploring and hanging out with one another and getting to know more about the country that we are studying in. From our amazing orientation week, to occasional one-on-one check-in meetings with Martha, it has been such a benefit to be a part of the CIEE program here in Haifa. I am so grateful for the ways that the program has impacted my time here and look forward to the many other adventures we will have.