Lessons from the El Al Flight Diverted to Athens: Shabbat is Shabbat

This past Friday afternoon, El Al Flight 002, en route to Tel Aviv following a late New York departure on Thursday night, was flying somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, when the pilot informed us that, in fact, our flight would not make it safely to Tel Aviv before the arrival of Shabbat and instead, we would be spending the day of rest in Athens, Greece.

My heart dropped. Not only would I leave my wife in charge of our six children for an extra two days, but I would have to miss the bar mitzvah of my nephew Abba Tzvi. I feared letting my family down and felt deeply frustrated about having to spend Shabbat in (at the time) unknown circumstances. The last thing I wanted to do was miss Shabbat back at home.

Another rabbi on El Al 002 was flying to Israel for his seventh-grade student’s bar mitzvah. He too was upset about disappointing the family who had paid for his ticket. A nice lady sitting a row behind me was worried about having to leave her mother’s casket, as she too was planning on spending Shabbat in Athens.

In truth, all one hundred and eighty of us had no interest in spending Shabbat in Athens. We had one hundred eighty other places where we would have rather been.

However, on the bus which took us from the airplane to the airport, some people began singing Shabbat songs, providing a much-needed sense of optimism to the experience. We realized we had the opportunity to transform this Shabbat into something special if we chose to.

Proudly, I can say we rose to the challenge. A powerful Kabbalat Shabbat that set the tone for the entire Shabbat, followed by an excellent dinner with people sharing a l’chaim, courtesy of what they had just purchased in the duty-free shops. A melody-filled tisch featured “Kah Echsof” as the highlight. Many interesting conversations about hashgacha pratit and the parsha provided a fantastic opportunity to meet and engage with many incredible people.

Throughout Shabbat, many thoughts hit me; the tremendous hakarat hatov I had for Rabbi Mendel and Mrs. Nechama Hendel, the co-directors of Chabad of in Athens, and how privileged I was to be part of a people who know how to come together when need be.

But, perhaps, the most powerful thought: What brought us together was our collective, unflinching commitment to keeping Shabbat. As I mentioned, there were one hundred and eighty people with one hundred and eighty places where we would have preferred to be, yet we all agreed to one uniting idea: Shabbat is Shabbat.

I want my children, nephew, and whoever reads this to know, not just for me, but for all one hundred and eighty of us and many more not on the airplane, Shabbat is Shabbat.

By Rabbi J. Horn

 Rav Jesse Horn is a Ram at Yeshivat Hakotel, known for his methodological and Brisker approach to Gemara, creative Shiurim in Tanach, and warm personality. In shiur, he teaches Talmidim to rigorously read and dissect texts, to ask major questions on the Sugya, and to develop and analyze the answers and approaches offered by the Rishonim. Additionally, Rav Horn sends out a Halachic email weekly to almost one thousand readers. He earned a B.A. in Judaic Studies and M.A. in Jewish Education and received smicha from Yeshiva University/RIETS. Rav Horn resides in Neve Daniel along with his wife and children.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.