North by north west

With a rich history, lively creative energy and plenty of unique places to stay, Rosh Pina is fast becoming the Galilee's cultural cornerstone.

October 25, 2007 15:54
North by north west

Rosh Pina Jeep 224. (photo credit: Orit Arfa)


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It is not surprising that during her last visit to Israel, the kabbalist diva Madonna inquired into buying a home in Rosh Pina. Rosh Pina is located a few minutes away from the Safed, where, according to kabbalistic tradition, the messiah is set to appear at the end of days. Although Rosh Pina has no branch of the Kabbalah Center, four active synagogues serve the largely secular and traditional population of 2500. The residents are down-to-earth, not the kind to get "star-struck," and they'd probably leave her alone. Rosh Pina has flourished into the center of entertainment and fine cuisine for tourists and residents of northern Israel. It boasts close to 40 restaurants and cafes (that's one eatery for every 62 residents), almost 400 country-lodge units, a cinematheque and an array of craftsmen and artists who sell one-of-a-kind goods, all of which can easily satisfy the worldly inclinations of the material-girl-turned-spiritual-seeker. Alas, Madonna hasn't purchased a Rosh Pina home, but it's quite common for people who spend a few nights at Rosh Pina to fall in love with the city. From the first step along the main - half paved, half cobblestone - road one can easily get lost in the city's romance, beauty, and history. ROSH PINA OF OLD The fine taste Rosh Pina exhibits can be traced back to the patronage of Baron Rothschild, who took upon himself the development of the village during his first visit there in 1883. In 1887 he commissioned a French landscape designer to design a terraced rose garden inspired by the Versailles Gardens, which is well-maintained even today. The fertile potential of Rosh Pina was first discovered in 1878 by Safed yeshiva students who sought to cut their dependence on charity and earn their own keep by cultivating the land. Their efforts to become farmers eventually failed, and only four yeshiva bochurs remained in the city to greet the next batch of pioneers: Romanian Zionists. These new settlers named the town after the phrase in Psalms 118:22: "The stone the builder rejected will become the cornerstone [rosh pina]." They can rest assured that their vision has been realized: Rosh Pina has flourished into the cornerstone - a precious gem even - of Galilee. In 1978, The Association for the Restoration of the Pioneers Settlement launched a massive restoration project of the first neighborhood of Rosh Pina. Rothschild's administration buildings now serve as offices and a screening room for a short audiovisual presentation dramatizing the town's history. The restoration society has done an excellent job revitalizing the old neighborhood, giving historical depth to a town becoming increasingly recognized for its modern luxuries and pleasures. Some of the homes of the pioneering residents have been transformed into art, glasswork and ceramic galleries. The first synagogue, where the progeny of the pioneers still hold their sons' bar mitzvas, is located right next to a chocolate café. This juxtaposition of the old and the new is seen throughout. To organize a tour of the old quarter or a screening of the audio-visual presentation, call: (04) 693-6913. BUGGY THROUGH SEEDS OF AGRICULTURE & HISTORY Ofer Shwartz is the great-great-grandson of one of the first pioneers of Rosh Pina, Reb Alter Shwartz. Reb Alter's grandson, Ofer's grandfather, started his own farm in the 1950s which has been expanded by his children and grandchildren. Across the main highway leading from Rosh Pina to Kiryat Shmona are some 400 dunams of farmland the Shwartz family continues to manage. In the tradition of their great-grandfather, who opened the first hotel in Galilee, the Shwartz brothers are tourism pioneers. In 1993 Shwartz started a jeep tour business taking tourists throughout Galilee, but last year he deviated from the traditional jeep tour path to offer tours through the Shwartz farm on the TomCar, an Israeli invention Shwartz calls a "third-generation 4x4." The advantage of the TomCar (which is like a dune buggy) is that anyone who holds a valid license can ride it. Shwartz assured me that the ride is safe. So I took to the wheel and rode through four generations of farming - rows of plums, peaches, and pears (pears are Rosh Pina's specialty) - and stopped for some fruit picking. Throughout the tour Shwartz briefly explained the agricultural process, from sowing to harvest, while offering personal historical tidbits. The family line is drawn out in fruit. Shwartz pointed out one section of pears his grandfather planted in 1956 which continues to give fruit for commercial trade. A few yards away, his daughter, a fourth generation Shwartz, planted her own pear seed. Warning: Dress to get dirty! NIS 350 per car per hour (takes four), or NIS 500 for two hours. Tel. 057-570-2000. SHROUDED IN MUSIC &COLOR Located near the entrance of Rosh Pina is Woodsong, a unique gallery where South African native Peter Isacowitz sells his original homemade wooden musical instruments. His work embodies the authentic creativity, passion, friendliness and good vibrations exhibited by many of the craftspeople who set up shop in Rosh Pina. Isacowitz, a former science teacher, moved to Israel from South Africa in 1979 and took a retraining course in cabinet making and carpentry. But he never let go of his love for music and discovered a way to combine his hobby with his new profession: the making of musical instruments. "My aim is to make instruments that everyone can enjoy," said Isacowitz. "Not instruments that require musical study for four years. They're very user friendly." Isacowitz is usually on hand at his gallery to demonstrate how to use each instrument: the marimba, the Celtic harp, and the didgeridoo, a popular instrument of aboriginal Australia made of hollow wood. Isacowitz often uses raw materials from Galilee to create his instruments. "People always help me find wood. My friends who are farmers always tell me when they're going to cut trees," explains Isacowitz. Visit his Web site at Tel. (04) 686-0313 For those who prefer fabric over wood on their walls, there's Ronit Eilat's gallery, "The Art of Quilting," located in the old Rosh Pina neighborhood. It is like stepping into a sophisticated, colorful kindergarten. The walls are covered with quilts embroidered with Eilat's cutouts of Hebrew letters and original, cute designs of children, animals, and objects. Her clients have included King Abdullah II of Jordan, who commissioned a blanket for his newborn, and Chinese tourists who commissioned a blanket with Chinese embroidery. No two quilts are alike, and each reflects the mood of Eilat at the time of creation. "I can tell by looking at a quilt how I felt at the time," Eilat related. She must be in a good mood often, because all the quilts and designs look sunny and cheerful. Quilts range from NIS 150 to NIS 1,500. Tel. 052-378-7499 TAKE OUT Many families in Rosh Pina have added-on guest units to their home which offer a warm, homey vacation experience, but with all the culinary options available at Rosh Pina, many do not offer both room and board. Here are some recommended take-out options for dining on the porch or out in nature. GALILA Galila is an ideal choice for Galilee patriots. It a restaurant and delicatessen which sells the best of Galilean foods: meats, cheeses, oils, jams, wines, dressings, breads and beer. Galila is the only eatery in the area to carry beer from the young Golan brew house. The outdoor seating area of white, milky design is wide-open and inviting, and the pastas, salads and sandwiches are made using Galilean raw materials and spices grown behind the restaurant. Galila prepares picnic baskets for couples at NIS 150 which include meat or cheese platters, salads, breads, and cutlery. (04) 693-7569 RACHEL'S BREAKFAST Rachel Zamir gained most of her experience working for a 10-member American family aboard a yacht. Since returning to Israel, she looked for a way to become a private chef again. In the privacy of her own home she creates scrumptious breakfasts that include a pesto omelet, homemade bread and jam, a fruit and cheese plate, smoked salmon and tuna and freshly squeezed OJ. For coffee, you'll have to suffice with whatever the guest-house kitchenette offers. Breakfasts are delivered to your doorstep. Advanced notice required: 050-533-5460. NIS 100, serves two. PINAT HA'OCHEL Only a handful of restaurants in Rosh Pina have a kashrut certificate, and Pinat Ha'ochel is one of them. It is a fast-food, self-serve Middle Eastern eatery located in a basalt stone structure, offering an alternative menu of homemade kebab, chicken, stuffed peppers, and other meat dishes. Many religious couples and families who stay over Shabbat order from Pinat Ha'ochel so that they can enjoy a kosher, hot Shabbat meal. (04) 693-6222.

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