May 3rd 2015
The story of Jewish life in Tzfat over the past 200 years is preserved and displayed in a compelling manner at Hameiri House, or Beit Hameiri in Hebrew. A fifth-generation native of Tzfat who passed away in 1989, Yehezkel Hameiri came to know this building as a child and spent decades transforming it into a museum.
Earthquakes in the 18th and 19th centuries destroyed some parts of Hameiri House, but a garden that was planted on the ruins of some of the rooms still thrives. See the simple living quarters in rooms that are believed to be more than 400 years old. Adjacent to the living quarters is a mikveh (ritual bath) from the 16th century. Walk through the courtyard to the Hameiri family synagogue, once frequented by members of the city’s Persian community. After having being abandoned for many years, the synagogue has been partially restored and honors its founding members.
At the core of the museum are two large halls, each 150 years old. For a period ending at the turn of the 20th century, these rooms were used as the headquarters of the Tzfat Rabbinical Court. During WWI, they were home to hundreds of children who were orphaned in a devastating typhus epidemic that took the lives of two thirds of Tzfat’s population. Today, these vaulted halls display paintings, documents and ordinary utensils used by more recent generations of Tzfat.
Of special interest is the schoolyard that was home to Tzfat’s first Hebrew school of the Zionist era, more than 100 years ago, during the days when Baron Rothschild was building Jewish communities in Palestine. From here, you can see Mt. Meron and the ancient Tzfat cemetery, including the distinctive blue tomb of the Ari, Rabbi Isaac (ben Solomon) Luria Ashkenazi, the iconic 16th century Kabbalist. After the school closed down, the balcony became an important lookout over the threatening Arab Quarter.
The Meiri family is known for being dairy farmers, and the Hameiri Dairy claims to be the first dairy manufacturing company to have set up shop in Israel. Couple your tour of Hameiri House with a tour of the cheese production plant, the birthplace of Tsfatit-style cheese. Your tour of a dairy facility won’t be complete until you sample some quality Meiri cheeses.