Kahal of Safed
|Tzfat Excavation Tours
|Archaeological Excavations of a 16th Century Tzfat neighborhood.
The Kahal excavation site was buried under rubble and recently excavated. Today it is an Israel National Heritage Site, being developed to provide visitors to Tzfat with an opportunity to learn about Jewish immigration to Tzfat and life in the town in the years following the Spanish Expulsion. The Kahal will also concentrate on the impact that Tzfat of the Middle Ages had on Jewish life throughout the world because of the scholars who came to Safed to live and study.
 History of Safed -- 16th Century Jewry
Throughout the centuries of the Medieval era and into the Middle Ages Jews maintained communities throughout Spain. They called their communities “kals,” derived from the Hebrew word “kehilla” -- community. Fortunes of Jews in Spain rose and ebbed throughout those centuries, with alternating positive and unfortunate relations with the ruling Moors, Muslims and Christians. When Jewish life began to deteriorate in the 14th and 15th centuries, many Jews left Spain and reestablished their lives in various regions throughout the world.
 Movement to Safed
Thousands of these refugees made their way to the Land of Israel and many, including some of the era’s greatest Kabbala scholars, settled in Tzfat. The existing Jewish community welcomed them. Tzfat’s previous village of a few dozen Jewish families grew to encompass thousands of people. The new residents built their homes along the mountainside, above the cemetery. As new immigrants arrived the town spread upward in the direction of the Tzfat citadel.
 Destruction of the City
Tzfat sits on the Syrian Rift, an earthquake zone. Earthquakes have decimated Tzfat during its history, most recently in 1759 and again in 1837. Each of these earthquakes unleashed a landslide whose earth and rubble covered the city. Survivors rebuilt on top of the ruins which, due to the fact that they had been built with domed ceilings and arches, did not collapse but remained intact under the ground.
 Remnants of the Old Kahal
Visitors who walk through Tzfat today will see arches peeking out of the ground. Each arch is a door or a window frame of a building that was buried by the landslides that the earthquakes unleashed. Earthquake survivors and subsequent residents of Safed built their homes on top of the existing buildings which were too difficult for them to dig out. The old buildings, however, serve as the foundations of the new buildings and some excavating has taken place over the years.
Read full Zissil article on Safed History
 Livnot U’Lehibanot
In 1980 an Israel program was created. “Livnot U’Lehibanot” -- To Build and Be Built -- brought young people to Tzfat for three-month work/study programs. The students uncovered and rebuilt the excavated buildings in the mornings while hiking and studying in the afternoons. These old rooms became the dorm rooms and the campus of the Livnot program.
 Livnot Excavations
In 2004 Livnot began a new excavation along the hillside below the main Abuhav synagogue. The excavations uncovered the central bakery and bathhouse of 16th century Tzfat, a find that stunned the Archaeological Authority. The baths and “mikves” -- ritualriums -- are located on the second floor of the two-story building. The bakery was located on the first floor -- the heat of the bakery would warm the bathing water above.
 The Kahal
Livnot and the Archaeological Authority submitted a plan to the Israeli Government, requesting that the site be incorporated into the government’s plan to develop National Heritage Sites throughout Israel. In October 2011 the Israeli Cabinet met in Tzfat and announced the inclusion of this site, renamed “The Kahal” in honor of the Spanish Jews who fled Spain, as a National Heritage Site.
 Development Plans
Plans for the near future include developing The Kahal as a center where tourists can learn about Jewish history, culture and traditions. Interactive exhibits will provide an overview to explain the development of Kabbalah in Tzfat and how those developments influenced -- and continue to influence -- Jewish life worldwide. The kahal’s location, just north of the Abuhav synagogue, allows visitors to access it easily, making it a central site for Tsfat’s burgeoning tourist industry.
Read full Zissil article on Livnot ULehibanot