Everyone has been anticipating the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkot (chol hamoed are the 'intermediate days' of Sukkot). Chol HaMoed, both for Sukkot and Pesach, are wonderful times in Israel. School is out, many people are not working and there are activities galore. Neve Daniel had scheduled today as a yishuv-wide tiyul. Everyone was all set to go to explore some tunnels and then to visit Herodian and to eat in the sukkah there. Well we woke up to the first rain of the year and, even though everyone had planned outdoor activities many of which would be cancelled, there were still baruch haShems (Thank G-d) all around. The first rain is a very special time in Israel. We are so starved for rain, that even when everyone's plans are ruined the rain is still a blessing that everyone is grateful for. We went to the bank this morning, while waiting in line the tellers realized that is was raining outside, everyone stopped what they were doing to go to open the door, look at the rain and proclaim, 'What a bracha!'
So, even with a day filled with rain there were a bunch of hearty souls who met at the gate (about 45-50 families) to embark on our tiyul. We all convoyed out to Tekoa (about 15 minutes East of us in Eastern Gush Etzion in the heart of the Judean Desert) and drove down to the entrance to the wadi that leads all the way to the Dead Sea (the same route that I took for the over night hike I wrote about in June). The landscape is stunning, with sharp descents plunging to the bottom of the wadi. The mountain sides are filled with caves of various sizes that were used for centuries by various monastic orders as monasteries and by the soldiers of the Bar Kochva revolts against the Romans. We made our way inside one large cave, through a twisting tunnel until we entered a large room. It was quite neat and amazing to think that people had actually lived in these places centuries ago.
The concert that we had planned to attend for a year in Beit Shemesh was cancelled tonight due to the rain, so we are hunkering down for a night of pizza and movies as the land absorbs the much needed rain. No sleeping in the sukkah tonight!