Escape from the Storm

It’s Friday, and it’s raining outside.  Actually, it’s pouring.  My soldier son is home, and my daughter (who used to go to school on the Gaza border) is expecting us to pick her up at her new school in Jerusalem at 8:00 AM. We have a plan for the morning…sort of. Yesterday, when we looked at the drizzly forecast, we scouted out a particular flower covered hill in Central Israel.  Our plan is to hike atop this hill, which, we assume, won’t be as rainy or cold as our hometown.

But the rain is relentless. It is absolutely pouring.  “You know, there are other options,” says my husband as he looks out the window at the puddles forming puddles in our yard.

“Are there?” I reply, “Like what…going out for breakfast at a café? That’s no option for me!” I reply with a bit too much vehemence. There are times when I’m happy to have a cozy morning.  But after a long week indoors in the rain I feel like I need to get out. In nature. This is truer than ever during the war.  In this wartime life, there seem to be fewer things to look forward to, fewer big projects to embark upon, less fun planning to engage in.  We must live in the moment.  And for me, seizing the moment means finding opportunities to experience beautiful nature with my family in the Land of Israel – even when it’s cold and raining.

 “I mean, if it was just us, we would definitely go!“ I continue, with a bit of self-doubt, “We told the kids what to expect.  They know what they’re getting into…”

My husband gives me an understanding look.

His look says it all. I know I’m nuts. I’m determined to get outdoors no matter the circumstance.  Unless there’s a hurricane, I feel the need to run free in nature, to breathe fresh air, to sit on the ground.  But I do want to spend the morning with my big kids.  And I’m not completely delusional – I know that hiking in the rain on a flower covered hill in the freezing cold just isn’t fun for most people.  It’s extremely unlikely that we’ll get to enjoy any flowers, anyway. So, I pivot.

“Hey, why don’t we go back to that secret cave we discovered in Nahal Tekoa?” I suggest.  “We can brave the rain and then cuddle up inside for hot coffee and breakfast.”

This cave, the one in Nahal Tekoa, is a new discovery of ours.  After years of hiking along the same trail, we found this magnificent cave there just a week ago. On that rainy Friday, we were also struggling to find an acceptable outing for the weather.  I suggested the Tekoa Canyon; just twenty minutes from our home, the beautiful Judean Desert canyon would likely be much warmer than our town.  And we could eat breakfast sheltered from the rain in the well-known Haritoun Cave. 

By the time we arrived, the rain had vanished, so instead, we ate breakfast on a sunny ledge by a spring.  We hiked more afterwards though, and since we had a bit of time to wander, we ended up exploring, climbing up on the cliffs to peek into some unknown caves. There, we discovered a rickety hand-built ladder, leading up to an incredible second level.  The ascent was terrifying, but we went up anyway. And once inside, we discovered the most perfect place for a tiny gathering, a place to watch the rain, light some candles, and pour some coffee. 

One week earlier.

Our kids are going to love it.

We gather up our crew, put on our best rain gear, pack a bag with thermoses of hot tea and coffee, and set out for Jerusalem.  The rain continues to fall.  Somewhat surprisingly, our kids aren’t complaining. Nobody’s wondering how we’re going to hike in this weather or why we aren’t going somewhere warm and dry instead. Even our soldier son, who spent the week cleaning and prepping his platoon’s Pumas in the pouring rain and cold, is taking the plan in stride.  (The highlight of his week, he had informed me, was when he woke up to hot porridge for breakfast one morning.)

After picking up my daughter, we continue on to the Judean Desert.  Soon, we reach the Yishuv of Tekoa, then we pass a chicken farm and arrive at the trailhead…and it’s still raining.  I half-jokingly suggest we eat breakfast in the car instead.  But nobody calls me crazy or bemoans our shared fate. Instead, after a brief struggle with jackets, the kids pile out of the car like good troops and start walking.

It’s definitely raining, but we are safely ensconced in layers of warm clothing, waterproof jackets, and waterproof boots.  We hike along together and all anybody can talk about is how green and beautiful everything is. Only my husband and I know what lays ahead – as far as the kids know, we’re going to eat a mediocre breakfast in some boring cave.  But everyone seems happy anyway.  We’re in this moment together, embracing this crazy mini-adventure, led forward by a madwoman. 

We pass by the Haritoun cave and keep going, past the spring, past little purple wildflowers, over an incredible gaping valley.  “Over here,” I tell our two boys in the front, “It’s that cave right up there – you guys go in.  I’ll be there in a minute.”

When I get there, our younger son is halfway up the rickety ladder, looking pretty petrified. “It won’t fall!” I promise him, “I’m holding on tight.”

My oldest son is up top already; I can hear from his voice that he’s completely amazed at the incredible hidden chamber he now stands in.  I climb up too, hoist myself up on the rock that connects the rickety ladder to our café in nature, and there I am.  I peer around, familiarizing myself once again with this secret cave.  There are little ledges with arches, a cistern in the corner, something that looks like a seating area carved out of stone in another.  Two massive openings create a perfectly formed window. Someone (probably the same person who built the ladder) has placed candles all over the place. “This is incredible,” says my soldier son, “What a great place.”

Soon, my daughter and husband join us. We’re all together, warm and cozy and away from the falling rain.  We’re breathing the fresh air of nature.  And we’re also indoors, somehow. My husband pours hot coffee and cinnamon apple tea and I distribute blueberry muffins and omelet sandwiches. Breathing deep, hot coffee in hand, I feel truly calm and serene. 

We tell our kids stories about this cave, about the monks who once lived in this valley near the famous monk Haritoun.  “How did they stay warm?” my daughter wants to know, “How did they eat and drink? Where did they get their clothes from?”

Together, we imagine how those men of ancient times may have lived their lives, lives of simplicity and quiet meditation.  We tell the kids about Haritoun Cave nearby, named for the monk who built a monastery in this valley. (Haritoun is one of the deepest caves in Israel- you can crawl through it for hours.)  Everyone settles in, and eventually, the boys decide to explore even further, figuring out a way to climb up to a seemingly inaccessible third level.  Something about this war has allowed us all, even more than usual, to live in the present, to grab hold of what good we can and forget about the bad, to be thankful for simply being together, enjoying life, right here.

Brothers at play.

When a nice amount of picnic time has passed, we pack up our bags and begin the even-scarier climb down the ladder. I go down right after my soldier son so I can keep an eye on the kids descending.  My husband stays up at the top to guide them.  Soon, we are walking back through the valley.  It’s not raining anymore.  We’re sweating in our layers as we ascend over slippery rocks back to the trailhead.

We pile into the car and drive back towards Jerusalem, back towards urban life, newspaper headlines, blaring signs, and our modern reality.

My daughter gets out of the car when we reach her school, “Bye everyone, Shabbat Shalom,” she says with a smile, “Thanks for the fun morning.”

I imagine what she will tell her friends, her dorm mother, her teachers.  And thinking about her atypical morning twenty minutes from the city, I doubt she will tell them anything at all.

And back we go to our not so normal, wartime life.

Let the sun shine in.

2 thoughts on “Escape from the Storm

  1. I love this. I feel the same after a week cooped up in the house! Need to get in nature even when its pouring! ❤️

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