The greatest joys in life often come from the way human beings face unexpected hardship together.
I wrote yesterday about the delayed EL AL flight from New York that ultimately diverted to Athens in order for observant passengers to avoid desecrating the Sabbath. There are still many questions over what exactly occurred onboard, but 150 passengers unexpectedly found themselves together in Greece from Friday evening to Saturday evening.
What the passengers didn’t know at that moment was what was waiting for them at the hotel that the airline had booked: a full-course Shabbat meal, prayer-hall accommodations and arrangements for customary Shabbat learning sessions, compliments of local Chabad emissaries Rabbi Mendel and Nechama Hendel. The couple, who have co-directed the Athens Chabad center since 2001, were alerted about the incoming flight and situation around 11 a.m. (Athens time) on Friday. By 4 p.m., they had put together a lavish Shabbat spread for what was actually more like 150 people.
Chabad is a movement within Judaism. More than just a sect, it is known for its outreach and has set up a “network of 3,600 institutions that provide religious, social and humanitarian needs in over 1,000 cities, spanning 100 countries.” This outreach is not exclusively for Chabad adherents, but offers humanitarian aid to unaffiliated Jews.
And when the Chabad chapter in Athens received word of the incoming EL AL flight, what a marvelous thing it did in preparing meals and accommodations for each passenger.
I love the fact that 150 people, brought together by an unwanted circumstance but united by a common faith, spent 24 hours bonding together. Various passenger accounts underscore what an incredible time this was.
One thing I greatly respect about the Jewish faith is how there is such kinship worldwide. That’s a generalization, of course, but what a shame that often the most bitter divisions are within faith traditions.
While I do not blame these passengers for now suing EL AL over the delay, in a sense they experienced a blessing thanks to the unforeseen delay. It was at least one Sabbath they will never forget.