Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Editor’s note: When El Al’s flight 26 from Newark was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, last Shabbat, East Brunswick’s Barry Schechter and his family were among the stranded passengers. Here, he writes of his emotional experience on Shabbat in a letter of thanks to his Chabad hosts.

Dear Rebbetzin Bassie and Rabbi Mendy Feldman,

On behalf of my family and everyone on El Al 26, I would like to thank you both for your incredibly gracious, generous and heartfelt hospitality in Halifax. I know I speak for all of us when I say we quite literally could not have made it through Shabbos without you.

When we were told by the pilot of El Al 26 that our Newark to Tel Aviv nonstop would be making an actual stop due to mechanical difficulties, we were certainly taken aback. For many of us, Shabbat was the first worry as we landed in Halifax late Thursday night. We imagined davening in a hotel conference room at best and an airport lounge at worst.

But once El Al told us that they had contacted Chabad, a cheer rose up from the plane.

Only later did we learn that in addition to preparing a large amount of food to accommodate the many passengers, and being instrumental in coordinating the generous shipment of meals (from very caring askanim in Montreal) delivered by wonderful yeshiva bachurim Yossi and Dovid, you also helped organize buses, hotels and many other details.

Friday night was emotional, to say the least. With students away vacation, we helped make a minyan in this smaller community, and the davening and zemirot were quite literally overwhelming.

As we sat down to eat a sumptuous meal, you and others gave beautiful divrei Torah that touched us all. When the El Al staff arrived to give us updates and their first concern was whether we had enough to eat, we knew that we were dealing with a Jewish airline. And when they said we were in good hands with Chabad, they were right.

My wife Allison and my daughter Dora agreed as we walked back that this was the definition of making lemons into lemonade.

Saturday morning was a more intimate affair as some of our group walked to the local Orthodox shul to help augment their minyan, and the rest of us went to Chabad. Then we all came together from both minyanim to eat another great meal.

Singing. Dancing. Divrei Torah. New friends. Stories. Young people schmoozing. Older folks schmoozing. And the biggest game of Jewish geography ever played!

In fact, half of us figured out we went to school with/taught/were taught by/carpooled with/know/have cousins in common with/know a dentist who did our fourth cousin’s tooth extraction, etc. We bonded as a group and “adopted” wonderful young men traveling solo (Mark from Deal, Dan from Englewood, and Ari from Staten Island). They and Dora and Nicole from Englewood and Ariel from Englewood all formed a nice little chevra (in addition to helping set up and clean up, as we all did).

We davened Mincha and then we took our leave back to the wonderful Lord Nelson Hotel, whose staff could not have been better.

After a couple of hours of sightseeing in historic Halifax, we davened Maariv at the hotel, did an impromptu Havdalah, and immediately boarded our buses back to the airport.

I write to you as we are over the Adriatic Sea, according to the screen keeping me awake above my head. God willing, Allison and I will be seeing Eretz Yisrael for the first time as we visit our twins Max and Eden, who are learning at Lev HaTorah and Machon Maayan, respectively. (Dora is back after her year at MM).

We will be seeing family and friends, God willing, all over the country.

Of course, the irony of another Mr. Magoo moment for me does not escape those who know that the twins were born on September 11, 2001, which is why I was not at the World Trade Center that day.

Regards, and we hope to see you, as we hope to see all our new friends, in good times, in Canada, the U.S. or Israel, perhaps with the coming of Moshiach! Amen!

P.S. (sent a few days later): Here we are at the Kotel, our first visit there as a family. It was electrifying and, honestly, overwhelming. At Machon Maayan, I was asked to speak to the school about what happened. It was very emotional (and funny, now that it is days later; comedy is truly tragedy + time). And El Al 26 passengers (in our new “The Halifacts” WhatsApp group) have thanked me for the letter. Because they all feel the same way.