Weeks 14 & 15:
Our time at Tzfat was a huge contrast from our time in Jerusalem. Instead of jumping into an on-going project or projects, we did our own, beginning with the planning stage and ending with a finished product that will be used to educate local building and conservation professionals. But first, we spent Shabbat in Tzfat, the center of Jewish spirituality and Kabbalah.
The week in Tzfat began on a Friday afternoon, just before everything closed for the weekend and the Sabbath rolled in. We stayed at Livnot U’lehibanot (“To Build and To Be Built”; http://www.livnot.org/), a non-profit Jewish organization that introduces young groups and volunteers to Jewish heritage, spirituality, and the Northern Galilee. Although most of our group is not Jewish at all, we were welcomed to all of the Shabbat events with open arms. There was lots of dancing, singing, learning about Judaism from a kabbalistic perspective, and, of course, food. The Talmud likens Shabbat to a bride, for whom the bridegroom (the Jewish people) waits with great anticipation. For this reason, Shabbat is sometimes referred to as a queen (http://www.pantheon.org/articles/s/shabbat_hamalka.html), so we welcomed the “Shabbat Queen” by going out onto the balcony of the main Livnot building and watching the sunset, synagogue hopping, and a big dinner.
Saturday began with a massive sleep in, followed by visits to some of Tzfat’s artists and lots of lounging around. It was nice to gear up for the week ahead and catch up on some much needed rest and relaxation.
I think this weekend was very interesting and enlightening for all involved, not just us from Saving the Stones. Because of the diversity of our group, we had a lot of engaging conversations with Livnot participants and leaders which brought a different perspective to the table (quite literally, since that is where we talked the most). It was great to get to know people outside of our little STS community and learn from people whom we may not have otherwise engaged. I know I personally gained a new understanding about some of the things we talked about. Even if I had opinions already, we talked about somethings that I haven’t thought about in a while and it was nice to reconnect with myself as I learned about others.
Now back to work…
The building we worked on is a 16th century ruin that was declared a National Heritage Site by the Israeli government in October 2011. The site is called a “kahal” (קהל), the term used to designate Jewish neighborhoods in Spain before the Jews were kicked out in the 15-16th century. During this time, Tzfat reached its Golden Age, thanks to the Kabbalists who moved there from Spain. This particular building is very large and was home to either multiple families or one large, extended family. As part of the Saving the Stones project and final report of our activities there, we are researching the origin, use, and history of the building. Little is known about it except some general information and the archaeological and conservation projects that have taken place in recent decades. Stay tuned! I will share our findings when they are ready. 🙂
We chose to work on a large part of the Southern Wall and the oven/chimney, which involved scaffolding, power tools, designing our own mortar, planning our own project – everything. The problems we encountered included the use of cement by previous conservators and fire damage. The stones in my corner of the project were particularly fragile due to intense fire damage, as was the chimney and oven where two of my friends were stationed. The ultimate goal of the project was to make the first, tangible steps in establishing this kahal as a practical training ground for building and conservation professionals in the region.
By the end of the week, we not only saved a lot of stones, but provided tangible examples of what different mortar recipes look like, how to do pointing and joint filling, prepared a wall for grouting, and removed quite a bit of damaging cement. Now, our whole group is working on a final report of our activities that will act as a training manual for those who work at Tzfat. I will be sure to share a link to the document when it is prepared!
We ended the week with a tour of Tzfat from the IAA archaeologist who spent his career there, but is a tour guide now that he has retired. We all came away wanting to return. Tzfat is a beautiful, restful place with a thriving art community and rich history. What more could one ask for?
We spent the week after Tzfat (week 15 already!) working on reports and beginning our final projects. We all have made a vast amount of progress, but there is not much to report as of now. I will keep blogging as I make progress on my project about the Vault Complex at Caesarea! Thanks for reading!