The Original Baker of Tzfat: Meet the Goldblum Family

The Original Baker of Tzfat

Meet the Goldblum Family (5th Generations in Tzfat….at least!)

When do we have an opportunity to truly immerse ourselves in the living history of a place? To meet the people whose roots and deeply entrenched in a Landmark City for Generations? To listen to the stories from 200 years ago, that truly gives you shivers down your spine, because all of them are 100% true, and they all happened RIGHT HERE?

I had the special (and rare) opportunity to experience a family gathering of Tzfat’s Goldblum family in Livnot’s 16th Century Community Center – The Kahal. Family came in from Sydney, Australia, Modiin, Israel and the original Tzfat family (now the Cohen family – an 8th Generation Tzfat family, who traces back potentially all the way back to the 2nd Temple). The Kahal features through unique aspects of life in Tzfat from 500 years ago –

  • Authentic Mikveh
  • Communal Oven
  • An actual community with houses, courtyards and wellsprings.

The Goldblums date back (at least) 5 generations in Tzfat, from the early 1800’s. They came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Capital of the Galilee, in Tzfat. Tzfat was always known as a poor-man’s city. Food was scarce, transportation was difficult getting up and down the mountain, and most of the residents from Europe lived in tight-knit Kolel communities, focusing on the Study of Torah with their Rebbe and living off of donations from Europe. The Goldblums in the midst of all this, operated the one and only bakery in the Jewish Quarter of Tzfat’s Old City. As well, they had a public Mikveh, a staple for any Jewish family to promote family purity and renewal.

Ilana Cohen, the great-granddaughter of the Haim Goldblum, the original baker in the 19th Century, took center stage and did most of the talking. The extended Goldblum family was in for a treat! The Sydney family were great grandsons of Haim’s brother, who escaped to Melbourne, Australia once the hunger was too hard to bare. They established a family bakery in Australia as well, and now have 4 Generations of Australian Jews (With great Aussie accents!) in Sydney and Melbourne.

When we got in, I lit the oven and that inspired all of the family members to take pictures in turn in front of the famous family oven. It was a very special moment, the revival of the family trade, of the Goldblum legacy. After the pictures and some quick introductions, we sat around to hear Ilana Cohen speak of the family origins and tell some Goldblum family stories from Tzfat in the 19th century and early 20th century.

IMG_4364Ilana spoke of the family tree, pulling out a carefully drawn manuscript, hand written, of the Goldblum family tree. It dated back to the early 1800’s and no detail was spared. She then proceeded to capture the family’s multi-generational Tzfat connection in just under ten minutes, sparking lively discussions about names, stories and Goldblum Tales passed down through the generations.

One of the most heart-wrenching stories was when Ilana described the hunger in Tzfat. Their great grandfather, at one point, resorted to literally eating coal. There were multiple babies who died and because this is a blog-post I will spare you some of the details depicted. Personally, that’s what invoked the biggest emotional reaction from me – how grateful we must be that even when the going gets tough, we literally have what to eat. Not something to be taken for granted, if you date back even just 3 Generations in Tzfat. At the end of 1947, the Jews : Arab ratio was about 1:10. Mr. Cohen, Ilana’s father, piped up how he was in the same class as Abu Mazen, now the President of the Palestinian State. They shared sandwiches together. And he remembers the days in 1927 when the Arabs slaughtered those same Jewish neighbors. The stories that were told were not light-hearted by any means. Life was very difficult. Food was scarce, but the community marched on and the bakery was operational until the end of World War One, approximately 1917, when part of the Goldblum family left for Australia to escape the hunger in Tzfat.

On a lighter note, I asked Ilana what was a baker like, and she affirmed that the communal baker is like today’s barber; Knowing what everybody ate, who had enough money for meat and who didn’t, and got to schmooze with the neighbors about their lives, the town gossip and other hot communal topics. The busiest day in the bakery was Thursday – when everyone would, in turn, bring their Shabbat food to the bakery to cook, and when many of the men came to the Mikveh for their spiritual preparation.IMG_4344

The Kahal strikes a typical and beautiful Tzfat balance – between the spiritual and physical. In Tzfat, the spiritual and physical needs are of equal balance, and that is why a mikveh for spiritual purity, and a bakery for basic physical needs can coexist under the same roof, adjacent to each other. Judaism is a blend between the physical and spiritual needs, incorporating each need to get closer to ourselves and God.

The Goldblum family legacy in Tzfat now lives on. We at Livnot are beginning to bring in groups to tour the Kahal site, and taking on an interactive Challot making workshop, led by Livnot’s finest educators in Tzfat. The workshop and tour is open for all ages, for groups and families. We invite everyone to join us in this authentic Tzfat experience of striking the balance between spiritual and physical, in a historical National Heritage Site.

For details please contact Ariel Tal – [email protected]


Nick Henderson
[email protected]

Before making Aliyah from Scotland, Nick ran an international NGO called Youth End Poverty and worked with a number of non-profits and social change organisations, including the British Council, Oxfam and Save the Children. Nick was previously Social Media Manager / Alumni Relations Manager at Livnot. Now he lives in Jerusalem and is passionate about public health issues, and represents Israel at various international conferences on health policy.