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The Sephardic Synagogue of the Ari is Safed's oldest house of prayer. It was originally dedicated to Elijah the Prophet, almost 300 years before the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria) came to Safed in the sixteenth century. The Ari is said to have prayed here; an alcove is shown where he communed with Elijah.

The synagogue's facade, with two niches flanking the door, apparently for lamps, has recently been restored by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Its interior blue accents are said to go back to the Jewish experience in Moorish Spain where blue was sacred. True to Sephardic style, the synagogue has two focal points: the southern wall - closest to Jerusalem - for the Holy Ark (in this case, three arks), and the central, raised bimah.

In the 1948 War of Independence, the Haganah placed a defense position on the roof of this fortress-like building, the Torahs were temporarily removed and firing slits were cut into its southern wall.

The synagogue's regular worshippers include some of Safed's oldest families, and the liturgy is also very old and authentic.

The Saturday service begins at 7:45 A.M. Other hours are irregular.

This review is republished courtesy of The Ministry of Tourism (www.goisrael.com).