Where spirituality meets luxury in Safed

The Way Inn has been called ‘the world’s first Kabbala hotel’

 The exterior of the Ashkenazi Ha’Ari Synagogue in Safed, where the custom of ‘kabbalat Shabbat’ began.  (photo credit: DOV HECHTMAN/SAFED MUNICIPALITY)
The exterior of the Ashkenazi Ha’Ari Synagogue in Safed, where the custom of ‘kabbalat Shabbat’ began.

The Baal Shem Tov, the Jewish mystical rabbi considered the founder of hassidic Judaism, was never able to visit the land of Israel, but if he did, the most fitting place for him to stay would be The Way Inn, a boutique hotel in Safed that has been billed as “the world’s first Kabbala hotel.” The Baal Shem Tov was himself an innkeeper and people would be enriched by his stories.

At The Way Inn, every suite has a story. Its seven suites (four for families and three for couples) are named after the seven lowest of the sfirot of kabala, the enumerations of God’s attributes. The room colors are based on the energy of its sfira, in peach, gold, blue, purple, red, and turquoise.
“We want it to be not just a hotel but a center for spirituality,” says Genine Barel, who owns and runs the hotel together with her husband, chef Roni Barel.
Genine is herself quite the storyteller and she has her own story about how a native New Yorker ended up buying a 250-yearold home and converting it into a hotel. She made aliya 26 years ago after being raised in a religious Zionist family in New York and working for the press and cultural emissaries at the local Israeli consulate. She followed her boss to Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theatre, where she worked for three years before leaving to travel the world.
Genine and Israeli-born Roni met in India, where the spiritual paths of the secular Roni and religiously raised Genine crossed. The hospitality of a Chabad rabbi in Hong Kong inspired both of them.
Roni enrolled in a yeshiva in Safed, where they fell in love with the community of English speakers, the views of Mount Meron, the cobblestone alleys, the beautiful sunsets and the energy.
“In Safed, you get lost so you can find yourself,” Genine says. “People don’t come here to strike it rich. They come here for peace of mind.”
The Barels bought the house of writer Binyamin Tamuz and spent a year renovating it. They then started hosting groups of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish National Fund and Anti-Defamation League, who came for Roni’s gourmet meals.
When the couple moved to nearby Rosh Pina, they renovated two neighboring properties and united them into a hotel. They installed all-new plumbing and electricity and decorated the rooms with custom handmade furnishings made by customers and neighbors with great attention to detail.
“We wanted to create a home away from home,” Genine says. “We want this place to be a sanctuary.”
The hotel has an art gallery that sells work of kabbalist artists of Safed. Artwork on the walls is also for sale, as are the mezuzot. What the aesthetic rooms do not have is a television.
“It’s about creating a zone where people can sink into the frequency of Safed,” Genine says. “Nowadays people work and can’t put down their phone. This is where people can remember who they were before all the noise.”
The Way Inn has received top marks from the leading tourism websites. Its clientele is 60% native Israeli and 40% from abroad; 50% religious, 50% secular – and 100% searching.
It hosts family gatherings on Shabbat or weekdays, with catering by Roni. They come for bar mitzvas, work getaways and Saturday night melaveh malka parties with musicians. The location is ideal, in Safed’s Old City within walking distance from many attractions.
Prices range from NIS 950 for a Shabbat to NIS 1,400, depending on the size of the suite. There is a playroom for children of all ages.
There are groups who come just for meals, for kabbalistic meditation, or to experience the hamam Turkish sauna or spa with massages, hot stones, shiatsu and reflexology. On Passover, the hotel hosted a vegan Seder, which was a challenge.
But the Barels are known for overcoming challenges, and The Way Inn is proof of that.
“People feel they enter a different world here,” she says. “We created it from our hearts, because we wanted to share our serenity with other people.”
The writer was a guest of the hotel.