Looking Into The Positive Side Of The El Al Flight #002 Fiasco: An Inspirational Shabbos, Thanks To Chabad Of Athens

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Back in my bochur days I loved helping out at Chabad Houses around the world, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Kobe, Japan.

Join Chabad and travel the world, right? Of course I didn’t just go the regular way. I flew on American between JFK and Orlando and JFK and Long Beach to earn 8 free vouchers that were valid for free travel to anywhere in the world on American with their AVNYC promo. I went with fellow bochur shliach, Levi Krinsky (who now owns the delectable Brooklyn Artisan Bakehouse), using 2 vouchers to fly free from Sao Paulo to Tokyo with stopovers in Dallas, JFK, Los Angeles and Miami along the way.

Finding Israelis in an Osaka, Japan market in January 2005:

 

Chabad Houses around the world are a real game changer for the kosher traveler. While Shluchim don’t dedicate their lives to take care of tourists needs, they are an amazing resource in far flung corners of the Earth. The main thing to remember is that each Chabad House needs to fundraise locally for all of their needs, so it’s important to give generously when you take advantage of their services. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are not able to or don’t know that they ought to contribute locally after taking advantage of services that are provided by Chabad.

After getting married, we’ve spent some truly incredible Shabbosim at Chabad Houses in cities like Chiang Mai, Melbourne, Paris, Venice, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Palm Springs, and more.

This past Friday it was Chabad of Athens that got the phone call from fellow Jews in a time of need. I spoke to Rabbi Hendel, who runs Chabad of Athens, to learn more about what happened from his perspective.

It wasn’t their first time at this rodeo. El Al diverted a plane earlier this year to Athens. Rabbi Hendel was in NYC for that Shabbos, so his wife, Rebbetzin Hendel, helped make sure stranded passengers had kosher food.

El Al flight 2 took off this past Thursday night at 11:45pm from JFK, despite a promise from the captain that the flight was returning to the gate.

Rabbi Sorotzkin was the liasion between the pilot and religious passengers on the plane. He is the head of the Ateres Shlomo Yeshiva in Israel. Rabbi Sorotzkin’s assistant reached Rabbi Hendel of Chabad of Athens at about 11am local time. Candle lighting was at 4:55pm. Rabbi Hendel was told to please prepare Shabbos food for 60 people.

That was based on the 60 passengers on the flight that had reserved glatt kosher/mehadrin meals. That’s yet another reason to reserve mehadrin glatt kosher meals, in addition to the OU themselves saying passengers should order mehadrin meals on El Al…

Shortly afterward El Al reached out to Rabbi Hendel and asked him to prepare food for 80 people, just in case.

130 tourists and locals had already made separate reservations to eat Shabbos meals at Chabad of Athens. There is also an on-site restaurant operated by Chabad, so Rabbi Hendel and his Rebbetzin scrambled to call in extra employees and to determine what food could be made quickly on that scale. They siphoned some food off what was prepared at their Chabad House, took food out of the freezer, and started prepping as much as they could for the inbound flight.

They quickly realized that they would have to make a couple of shifts to the hotel, which was a 45 minute drive from the Chabad House. Rebbetzin Hendel drove all of the food that needed reheating to the hotel while Rabbi Hendel scrambled to round up salads, produce, drinks, wine, and more food for the passengers.

Just about an hour before Shabbos, Rabbi Sorotzkin’s assistant called Rabbi Hendel again with some shocking news. There were actually some 160 people who would need Shabbos food!

Grabbing what he could from the grocery store located in the Chabad House, he headed over to the hotel and was thrilled that they had made food for 3 Shabbos meals. With the added people he figured that there would not be enough food for 3 meals, but at least everyone would have a hearty dinner and lunch.

The Hendels spent Shabbos at the hotel with the passengers and they brought Shabbos candles for everyone to light, and Shabbos hot plates for the food, but the Sofitel was very apprehensive about these items. Rabbi Hendel reached out to El Al to tell them that they need to negotiate this with the hotel, as there would not be a comfortable Shabbos without them. El Al managed to pull some strings and the Shabbos candles and hot plates were permitted.

The Hendels also brought a Sefer Torah, siddurim, and chamushim for everyone.

Meanwhile at the airport, El Al was already calling Rabbi Hendel “Our Rabbi” 😀

 

Rabbi Hendel said that the scene before Shabbos was one of chaos, but the second Shabbos started everyone seemed to be imbued with a sense of relief and serenity. Everyone’s mood had instantly changed.

Some people were embarrassed that their Shabbos clothes were checked in their luggage that was stuck on the plane, but the sea of people ran the gamut of all kinds of Jews from all walks of life around the world and it was a truly inspirational Shabbos.

One person commented to Rabbi Hendel that they saw the salad and Gefilte Fish and figured that would be the whole meal, and was in shock when the chicken and meat started flowing as if this dinner had been planned for a month in advance!

Rabbi Hendel notes that he could not have done it alone.

Rabbi Akiva Katz helped make sure that everything was organized with the passengers and between the hotel and El Al.

Many passengers also helped prep the food for the meals.

Rabbi Dovid Derli spoke to Rabbi Hendel about the lack of a mikvah in the city that people can use on Shabbos. Last year a group of Satmar Chassidim in Athens helped kickstart a new Mikvah campaign. Their help along with Rabbi Abraham Schwartz from Keren Mikvaos helped them buy the property for the Mikvah, though over $100,000 in funding is still needed to build the Mikvah.

Rabbi Derli made a significant pledge and asked the crowd to give back by helping build a new Mikvah for the Jewish community in Athens.

Rabbi Hendel says he was blown away by the Hakaras Hatov from the passengers.

For another look at the Shabbos, here is an excerpt of the trip report from my fellow Clevelander, Ben Chafetz,

“After the plane landed and we stopped we disembarked on one of those rollaway staircases to get onto one of several shuttles. I was one of the first people onto the shuttle and I watched as dozens of more Yidden came off the plane with no other thought than, to stay on the plane would be chillul Shabbos, and getting off the plane was the best chance of keeping Shabbos.

Chasidim got off the plane, men with black hats, colored shirts, in t-shirts, in suits, women with sheitels, snoods, no sheitels, in skirts, in pants; everyone coming off the plane was united in one thing – We believe in Hashem, and his Torah, and Shabbos was our gift and our inheritance and we would keep it.

As the first shuttle was full and started towards the airport (there were more shuttles behind us) everyone broke into a song for Shabbos Kodesh.

Once we got to the airport we were met by a women from El Al who was very sweet and took the time to explain to us that we were would be staying across the street (literally) at a hotel and they would take us as soon as the other shuttles arrive.

As they led us into the hotel it was very chaotic.  There were four hotel clerks and people started surging towards the front desk.  At that point, one Rabbi, whom I later learned was Rabbi Akiva Katz yelled above the crowd and explained to everyone that we would need to create orderly lines in order not to overwhelm the clerks.  He also let us know that they had set aside a place for davening and that Chabad had prepared food. This helped reduce the stress in the room and the process became more orderly as people were focused on getting to their rooms and ready for Shabbos in the 40 minutes we had left to Shkia.

Walking into Kabbalas Shabbos (I was late) was beautiful. The room was full of 60 or 70 men and about 10 women and everyone was singing.  Rabbi Jesse Horn from Yeshiva Ateres Kohanim led Kabbalas Shabbos. We were all so happy to be able to keep Shabbos, and the davening and level of simcha was very high. I think we must have danced four or five times during Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv.

After Kabbalas Shabbos we walked through the hotel to the dining area and I can tell you with 100% conviction that what I saw was beyond anything I could have imagined.

85% of the dining area was reserved for our Shabbos meal.  The tables were set beautifully with bottles of wine, grape juice and challah rolls.   Where the hotel usually displayed it’s salad bars, and assortment of cold meats it was now filled with platters of gefilte fish, 6 or 7 large bowls with a variety of salads and dips, it was as if this had planned for weeks in advance. There was plenty of fleish for the main course and an assortment of side dishes to accompany it.

The Seudah was beautiful and everyone sang zemiros and niggunim and there were many Divrei Torah. Several people had stopped at the Duty free store to get bourbon and scotch for the Oilam, and it was very leibdige and the singing went on for quite a while
I woke up several times during the night as I was still on NY time and every time I went downstairs to the lobby there were people learning together or talking about the Parsha.

Shacharis was another beautiful davening and it was interesting to see how it was a mix of Nusach Sefard, Sefardi, Ashkenaz.
After davening several people went to the kitchen to help Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hendel (the Chabad Shluchim in Athens) prepare for seuda.
There were also two shiurim being given, one in Hebrew, and one in English by Rabbi Yossi Baumol.

After the Shiurim we went to the dining room where like the previous night there were copious amounts of delicious food, a wonderful meat kugel wrapped in pastry, brisket, a large assortment of salads.  Unlike the previous night, where everyone sat next to people who were closest to them hashkafically, the seating during the Shabbos day Seuda was heterogeneous. Chasidim sat and schmoozed with Tzionim, Modox sat with black hats… I only use these labels so you can visualize the seating, but there were no labels at this Seuda, we sat in true achdus.

The rest of Shabbos and the subsequent trip back to the airport and our return flight to Israel was unremarkable in that I don’t need to bore you with the details.

First I would like to thank the following people.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin who had the foresight before the plane took off to have his organization contact El-Al and Chabad and put pressure on to make this Shabbos happen.

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hendel, the Chabad Rabbi and Rebbetzin based in Athens, Greece.  They got the call at 11am Friday morning and by 4pm that same afternoon they had prepared a beautiful Shabbos for 150+ adults which was not lacking in anyway.

My 150+ new friends and passengers who gave me an experience and Shabbos I will never forget.

Now a quick note to to El-AL.  Hi El-Al, I don’t know who handles your marketing and social media program but you wasted a huge opportunity.  Next time this happens, here is what you do. You make sure you get the same hotel and that Chabad sets up a beautiful Shabbos.  You hire a Greek photographer and video guy, you video the amazing Shabbos – and then you promote it as an El-Al sponsored Shabbos Unity.   If you need more advice feel free to call or email me, or just send me some tickets as a thank you.

I would like to leave off with a few thoughts having just spent one of the most amazing Shabbos of my life.

1. 150+ Jews from all backgrounds and hashkafic orientations, wearing every outfit possible walked off a plane with one thought – We will keep Shabbos, even if it means sleeping in an airport.

2. Unlike our Great Grandparents, who were fired if the did not work on Shabbos (USA), or where were ostracized, and possibly incarcerated for keeping Shabbos (USSR). How often do we get a chance to be moser nefesh for Shabbos?  This was a tremendous gift from Hashem to us that we had the chance to show Hashem how much we love him and his Torah, and we ALL took it.

3. Every parent in that hotel who was not able to be home with their children that Shabbos taught their child a lesson that they could not have taught them in a 100 Shabbosim at home.   They showed that Shabbos means so much to Mommy, Tatty, Ima, Abba, etc that they would walk off a plane in the middle of a foreign country with no guaranty of food or a place to sleep.

4. Yom Tov in the Beis Hamikdash was probably like this Shabbos.   Jews from all over coming together for Hashem and his mitzvos. I hope to see all of my fellow passengers this Pesach bringing korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash.

May we be zoche to see Mashiach and the return of the Beis Hamikdash.

With much love
Ben Chafetz

Only on El Al…

 

Ben then followed up that trip report and asked that I share this message,

Over the last 30 hours I have received 100’s of emails, whatsapps, texts, etc, from Jews all around the Globe expressing their gratitude for writing about the experiences last Shabbos and how it moved them.

There is an underlying Yisod in our Torah that when a person feels such a Hargasha, that it is imperative that there also be an accompanying action so that the emotional surge, which is ephemeral in its very nature, takes root and grows into something bigger. Without an action, it was just a feeling, we had it today, and it is gone tomorrow. The Ramban explains on a posuk in Shir Hashirim: Hishbati Eschem.. Im Ta’iru Ve’im Te’oreru Es HaAhava Ad Shetechpotz”. If you are going to have a Hisorerus of Ahava, you should make into a Chafetz, a Maaseh. I heard from my Rebbeim that there are at least two places we see this principle brought into play by our Avos. The first is by Akeidas Yitzchak. After Hashem told Avraham “אַל־תִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָֽדְךָ֙ אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר “the pasuk then tells us that Avraham sacrificed an “אַ֔יִל אַחַ֕ר” in place of Yitzchak. The meforshim explain that it was necessary for the Torah to tell us this because if Avraham had not done a “Peula”, an actual action, we would not have the Ma’aseh Aikeda today. We see this Yisod also in Parshas Vayigash. When Yaakov came to Mitzrayim and Yosef went out to meet Yaakov Avinu, Rashi tells us that as Yosef cried on Yaakov’s neck, Yaakov Avinu was saying Shema. Why did Yaakov of all times choose to say Shema at the moment? Because he had such a tremendous Hargasha of love and hakaras hatov to Hashem that he knew that he had to do a Peula in order to make it materialize into something.

This brings us full circle back to why I am writing this. The response from world Jewry has been amazing. We all were inspired by how a group of disparate Jews from all walks of life had a Shabbos of pure achdus, and it moves us, it makes us want to be part of that. But, now we need an action to be Mikayim this Hargasha that Klal Yisroel is currently feeling.

There is a Jewish Community in Athens, Greece, and they need a Mikveh. I spoke with Rabbi Hendel and it will cost $280,000 to build the mikvah and they currently have $175,000. Let us take action on our feelings of achdus, and all of us together as one people make this Mikva happen. Whether you give eighteen dollars, eighteen cents or eighteen hundred dollars, it doesn’t matter; what matters is making a peula,an action, so that our feelings of achdus will take root and manifest into something greater.
Below is a link to make a donation to  Rabbi Hendel for the Mikveh.

www.chabad.gr/mikvahcampaign

Checks can be mailed to:Friends of Chabad of Athens Greece, 1 Sunderland Dr.  Morristown NJ, 07960

Donations are tax deductible in the USA.

In the zchus of each us taking an action and giving something to complete this binyan together, we should be zoche to also work together to build the Beis Hamikdash Bakarov.

With much Love

Ben Chafetz – Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

Were you on flight #002? Share your experience in the comments!


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11 Comments On "Looking Into The Positive Side Of The El Al Flight #002 Fiasco: An Inspirational Shabbos, Thanks To Chabad Of Athens"

All opinions expressed below are user generated and the opinions aren’t provided, reviewed or endorsed by any advertiser or DansDeals.

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Shaul Yaakov Morrison

I hope elal pays retail for this.

yelped

Beautiful article! Thank you!

Jay

Can you just clarify this fund raising campaign?
Many have reported that people have already pledged to cover the mikva in full while they were there. Were those just rumors?

YitzyS

This piece is mentioned in this week’s Yated: “Ben Chefatz on the Dans Deals website”

Dav

Very nice read, I don’t know why I cried

Hey

Same here… I am so proud to be Jewish!

Elal should pay for the mikvah

Why not reach out to Elal via Twitter and social media to pay for the mikvah?

Zalmy

El Al should compensate chabad 160 ppl x $150 USD for shabbos meals candles sidurim etc
Cheap skates
Not feeding their pax
Leaving it for chabad
Paying zero
And claiming “their rabbi ”
Yes
In addition They should put athere chabaf rabbi on their payroll at $160,000 a year

Only after all the above they can say “we arranged “

AsherO

Typical Israeli thing to do, blame the “Chareidim” when you screw up but take credit for the “Charedim’s” generosity.

Menachem

Ben,
I want to tell you that when I got your message via whatsapp on motzey Shabbos, I enjoyed it so much that I sent it to a few friends.
One of them responded; “thank you so much for sending that to me. I had seen the story about Jews rioting on the plane on some non-Jewish sites Abe I was embarrassed to be Jewish. Now I see there is a totally different side of the story”

Zekil
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