The Ari Synagogue is named after Rabbi Isaac Luria, known by his acronym “Ari,” who was a famous Kabbalistic rabbi. The local stories in Tzfat tell that every Friday evening he used to take his followers out of the synagogue to a nearby field and pray in nature to welcome the Sabbath. The Ari began the now-famous tradition of singing Kabbalat Shabbat, which has been adopted by Jewish communities around the world.
The synagogue was founded by Spanish exiles who had settled in Greece before they emigrated to Tzfat. In the 18th century, with the arrival of a large group of Hasidim from Europe, the congregation changed the name of the synagogue to The Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue. Today it is used by both Sephardim, Ashkenazim, as well as a place of worship for people from many other affiliations.
During the War of Independence in 1948, the synagogue was packed with people seeking shelter from the battles surrounding them in the city of Tzfat. While the congregation bent forward in prayer, shrapnel tore through the synagogue, flying over the heads of the bent worshipers, and embedded itself in the base of the bimah. By miracle no one was hurt, and this event is considered to be one of the many miracles that are believed to have happened in Tzfat.
Today, you can still see the hole where the shrapnel hit.
-Contributed by Simone Meron