El Al flight 26, operated by one of El Al’s aging Boeing 777s, took off from Newark on September 18th at about 9:30pm.
Chabad Houses around the world that evening were farbrenging and celebrating the 18th of Elul, the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, and the birthday of the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad Chassidus. The Chabad Lubavitch movement is one based on Ahavas Yisroel, love of your fellow Jew just as yourself, no matter who they are.
As the plane flew over Newfoundland, a woman from Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim neighborhood had a medical emergency and doctors onboard advised that El Al should get her to a hospital ASAP.
El Al turned the plane back to Halifax, the nearest major city, and landed there at about 1am local time.
Passengers immediately contacted the Feldmans, who run Chabad of Halifax, to let them know that there was a passenger that would be heading to a hospital and in need of kosher food. The Feldmans have moved away from their family and friends a quarter century ago to open the remote outpost of Chabad of the Maritimes and now operate a shul, school, camp, and educational programs for the local community. Rebbetzin Feldman related to me that it’s their pleasure to help out anyone in need and they prepared warm meals for their late night visitors.
When they landed though, the woman didn’t want to get off. She had flown by herself to New York for the shiva of her niece. She spoke no English. How would she understand what was going on with her? Would she be operated on without consent or knowing what was wrong? How would she pay for the medical care? She wanted to fly onto Israel, but El Al refused to continue with her onboard.
Passengers started emptying their wallets to pay for her medical bills and potential flight expenses and passing it forward. Nearly $3,000 was handed over to the woman in a matter of minutes.
A Lubavitcher bochur from NYC, who wishes to remain anonymous, was onboard and watched as the situation unfolded. He spoke English and Hebrew and offered to stay with her and help her in Halifax. The Doctor onboard was amazed at his offer and told him that she was going to be OK and there was no need to accompany her to the hospital.
The bochur thought to himself, what would he do if it was his own mother in this situation? How could he leave her in tears like this, in an unfamiliar place where people didn’t speak her language, to go alone to the hospital?
The bochur’s seatmate insisted on handing him a $100 bill to help defray his own personal expenses.
El Al told the bochur that he could be forfeiting his ticket if he got off the plane. They also said they would not be able to get him his luggage. But he left the plane and accompanied the woman to the hospital.
The flight left Halifax at about 4:20am, some 2 passengers lighter, and made it to Israel at about 9pm local time.
The woman was cleared to leave the hospital by noon the next day and wound up buying her own flight to Montreal, where she has relatives. She also purchased her own ticket to get back to Israel on another airline.
While El Al never did check back in with the passengers, Rebbetzin Feldman called an El Al contact in Canada that had reached out to her previously when El Al flights had been diverted to Halifax. Rebbetzin Feldman explained that they had a hero in this case and asked if they would get the bochur back to Israel. By the time that El Al agreed to fly him to Israel, it was too late to catch a flight there before Shabbos, so he was rebooked to fly to Israel via Toronto on Sunday and stayed in Halifax for Shabbos with the Feldmans.
Without any clean clothes, Rebbetzin Feldman tells me that the bochur is out doing some shopping before Shabbos. I joked that it would certainly be easier for him than it was for me when I spent an unexpected Shabbos in Tokyo, where finding clothes bigger than a US size medium was an impossible task.
The bochur himself is surprised that the story has gone viral on social media. But perhaps only someone with true Ahavas Yisroel would be surprised that not everyone will walk off of an international flight to help a stranger. It has been some 222 years since the Alter Rebbe wrote about Ahavas Yisroel in Tanya. And it may be a quarter century since the Lubavitcher Rebbe passed away, but his legacy of true Ahavas Yisroel certainly lives on.
Be like this bochur, the Feldmans, and everyone else on the plane that helped out a complete stranger. Step up and do a random act of kindness and make someone else’s day. 🙂