The Keys and the Kayak

We had no control of the kayak whatsoever. The current kept thrusting us from river bank to river bank and the kayak kept spinning like a Ferris wheel…

5 min

Lt. Col. Yoni Zagdanski

Posted on 26.08.18

After being gone on military exercises almost four months out of six, we were all looking forward to some well-deserved family time. We decided to go camping near Mount Hermon, Golan Heights, Israel.


We found the perfect site: Breezy, cool, lots of greenery, and not crowded at all.


Around the campfire we discussed going kayaking the next day at Kfar Blum. My daughter Emunah (14) insisted we do the advanced kayak route as opposed to the slower “family route”. We agreed and retired to bed early.


We arrived at Kfar Blum early in the morning, parked the car and left everything there: cell phones, wallets, food, change of clothes, etc. The only things I took with me were the car keys and a bank card – just in case. I made sure to place the keys and the card inside two small Ziplock bags. For the record, I must point out that my wife Shira was not pleased about my keeping the car keys in my pocket, but I thought I knew better…


A bus picked us up and drove us to the starting point. There, a kayak guide gave us a short safety brief. We strapped on our life vests, boarded our rubber kayak, and off we went.


We quickly realized why this route was called the “Challenging route”. We had no control of the kayak whatsoever. The current kept thrusting us from river bank to river bank and the kayak kept spinning like a Ferris wheel. We were hitting the bushes on the sides of the river and had to duck to avoid getting tangled. At times, we bounced off large boulders on the bottom of the river.


Eventually, the current slowed down and we were able to regain control of the kayak. About fifteen minutes later, a feeling of dread descended upon me. I checked my pockets and realized that I no longer had the bag with my car keys inside. I cried: “Stop everything! My keys are gone! They must be on the floor of the kayak somewhere. Everyone check your space.”


We checked every inch of the kayak. The keys were gone!


I quickly realized the consequences of this loss; I knew our vacation was officially over. For starters, we couldn’t get into the car. We couldn’t call a locksmith since the phones were inside the car. We had no food, no ID’s. We basically had NOTHING!!! I also realized that to fix this predicament was going to cost us a nice chunk of change!


The kids were silent. Shira was seething; she kept saying: “Why didn’t you give the keys to the cashier like I told you?!”


I felt so ashamed. How could I have done something so irresponsible! Then the guilt set in, and a voice kept repeating: “Good job Yoni! What a way to ruin a family vacation…way to go! You call yourself an officer in the US Army?! A private wouldn’t even make that mistake!” The voice kept putting me down. I now realize that that voice was none other than the Evil Inclination – the Yetzer Hara–in all his glory. Indeed, he was having a field day!


Suddenly, I remembered Rabbi Shalom Arush’s advice from his books. I put my head in my hands and whispered: “Thank You Hashem for what is happening to us right now. Thank You Hashem that I Iost my keys and that our vacation is ruined.” Then, my youngest child, Aryeh (9) came close to me. It probably bothered him to see me so distressed. He said: “Abba, you always tell us to thank Hashem when something bad happens; so now, you should say thank you to Hashem.” He made me smile, even though it must’ve been a sad smile. I said: “You’re right Aryeh.” Then I said in a louder voice: “Thank You Hashem for having lost the keys of the car; thank you Hashem for this predicament!!”


We just didn’t know what to do. I thought of finishing the two-hour kayak route and then starting over from the top just to go back down slowly and scan every inch of the way. Deep down, I knew the chances of finding my keys were slimmer than finding a needle in a haystack. They probably had sunk to the bottom of the riverbed or gotten stuck in the bushes on the side of the river. Finally, I hadn’t the faintest idea where I lost them. This was a lost cause, and we all knew it.


Then Shira said: “Why don’t we do this…let’s park our kayak to the side and every group kayaking down, we’ll ask them if they found a set of keys in a bag.”


We all thought: “why not?” but knew we might ask people for hours without any success. Less than a minute passed when the next kayak came by.  Three yeshiva students were in it. Aryeh said in Hebrew: “Did you guys find a set of keys?”


They looked stunned at the question. They exclaimed: “Are you the ones that lost a set of car keys in a bag?” We couldn’t even answer; we literally couldn’t talk. My first thought was that they were teasing us; then they yelled at their friends in the next kayak: “Shimon! We found them! Quick!!”


It was not a dream! It was real!! Shimon paddled his kayak next to ours and said: “Are you Jonathan?” I said: “Yes, how did you know?” Shimon said: “well that’s the name on the bank card!!” We all laughed a huge laugh of relief. It was a laugh that released so many negative emotions all at once.


“How in the world did you guys find this tiny bag with my keys?” I asked.


“Well, we parked our kayak on the side of the river bank; we were swimming and having fun when we saw a little bag floating. We thought it was a piece of trash floating, and it bothered us that trash was floating in such a beautiful place in Eretz Israel. We retrieved it and lo and behold…it had car keys and a bank card inside. We decided to kayak onwards and maybe perform the mitzvah of Hashavat Aveida (returning a lost object).


I looked to the sky and cried out loud: “Baruch Shomea Tefila – Blessed is He Who hears all prayer!” And I said to them: “You guys saved my life! What can we do for you; can I buy you all a meal?” They smiled and said not to worry about it, it’s their pleasure.


Shira, the kids, and I all looked at each other, dumbfounded: We all agreed that we had experienced a true miracle! A million things could have led us to never find our keys.


Then I said to the kids: “This teaches us a few things…First, always say thank you to Hashem when something bad happens to you.


“Second, let’s repay Hashem by picking up trash when we are in Eretz Israel, His Holy Land. Who knows, we might find something that was lost. Third, always do your best to return a lost object.”


Looking back, I think that Hashem orchestrated this whole event for my kids and my wife to witness the miracle of gratitude. I spoke at home about saying thanks to Hashem for everything, but I don’t think the words ever penetrated until then. Now, my family witnessed firsthand the miracle of gratitude. We continued our vacation and Baruch Hashem, it ended up being our best vacation ever! As for me, I am buying a water-proof pouch, and saying thanks to Hashem for everything!!!!



Tell us what you think!

1. Yehudit


1L: What an incredible story! Thanks for sharing.

2. Yehudit


Thank you for your comment!

It will be published after approval by the Editor.

Add a Comment

next article

Everyone is asking: "Do I have to stop wanting my miracle in order to thank Hashem? How can I say that I don't want anymore, what I do indeed want?" Check out the incredible answer...