Rav Hayim Leiter
Cutting It Close
I too was once trapped on an El Al flight, only in my case it was my own fault. It all began a few months prior to the flight when two families were in touch with me who both had roughly the same due dates. And, wouldn’t you know it, the babies were born within 24 hours of each other. And they just so happened to be on Friday and Shabbat… and they just so happened to be 4,500 kilometers away from each other.
The first of the two Britot was on Friday, in Eastern Europe. The second was on Shabbat in Jerusalem. From the outset, even if everything went like clockwork, I knew it was going to be tight. The plan was to come in on Thursday evening, do the Bris on Friday morning and make my way back to Jerusalem with enough time to do Shabbat at home and the Bris on Shabbat morning.
Best laid plans.
You see when you travel to do Britot you have to be creative. I knew that time would be of the essence when I landed, so everything sharp had to be disposable so I could bring my suitcase on the plane. I brought a disposable knife and scissors I could live without so when the Brit was over, I could throw everything away before heading to the airport. It all seemed to be going according to plan.
In truth, I’m shocked that security let me through because I was so nervous I must have been shvitzing like someone who was hiding something. And when the agent viewed my bag, he saw something he didn’t like and he asked me to take out the scissors. I had forgotten that one of my tools, a hemostat, does look identical to a pair of scissors but it has pinchers instead of blades. When I showed it to him he shrugged it off and I was on my way. It was a big sigh of relief.
The flight was scheduled to take off at 11:30 AM and arrive in Israel at around 5:00 PM. The world always seems to work against you at times like these. The flight was delayed an hour and a half. Shabbat was due to start at around 7 PM. Do you see where this is going? When the plane took off and I started doing the math I was plotzing. You see, Tel Aviv International Airport is 45 minutes from Jerusalem and as I said, I had a Bris on Shabbat, so I HAD to be in Jerusalem.
As we reached our cruising altitude and my nerves starting to get the best of me, I approached one of the flight attendants. I asked, “Are we really going to land at 6:30 PM now, because I have a Bris in Yerushalim this Shabbat.” She assured that would land at more like 6 PM and that I should take my seat and someone would be over to talk to talk to me soon. “What could do they do, fly faster?” I wondered to myself. It was definitely shaping up to be the longest few hours of my life.
After a short while, the manager of the El Al flight crew approached me and asked what the situation was. I told her about what we were up against. (I’m surprised she didn’t say, “What do you mean we, white man?”) She asked if I had any checked luggage. I told her no, everything I had was with me. She said, “OK, I have an empty seat in First Class, when we start our descent, we’ll move you up there and when we open the doors you can run out.” And that’s exactly what happened.
Since it was Friday, just before Shabbat the airport was all but empty. I bolted off the plane, I was the first to a lineless passport control, I jumped onto the shuttle bus to the parking lot just as the doors closed. I was driving within 15 minutes of reaching the gate. I made it home with time to spare but that doesn’t mean I drove in a way I was proud of.
This entire situation I was faced with was only made better by the care and dedication of the El Al flight crew. I owe them a big debt of gratitude. And it is for this reason that I’m waiting with bated breath to hear the findings of the CEO of El Al’s investigation because in this case, as well as others, El Al has always gone out of its way for me and my family. Next time I see you, remind me to tell you about the time the company asked me for forgiveness during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur (true story). It’s another classic. But please do give them the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are in because in my experience they certainly deserve it.
__ This post first appeared in the Times of Israel