Heavy blizzards in Europe have led to disruption of many aspects of life, including flight delays and cancellations. One “casualty” was a Swissair flight that landed in Israel just before the Sabbath began – leaving some 30 passengers stranded in Ben Gurion International Airport.
However, thanks to ZAKA, the Border Guard police, airport rabbis, a caterer and bakery in Bnei Brak, and others, the stranded passengers’ Sabbath was comfortable, inspiring and memorable.
ZAKA first received word of the flight only two hours before the onset of the Sabbath, and learned that it carried dozens of Orthodox Jewish families – 80 people in all - who feared they would be unable to continue on to their final destination before the onset of the Shabbat.
The plane landed at 3:55 PM, just 45 minutes before the onset of the Sabbath in Jerusalem, where many of the passengers were headed; there was no chance they would be able to deplane, run towards waiting taxis – even without collecting their luggage - and make it to their homes in that time. Some 50 passengers whose destinations were much closer – or who were hosted by hospitable families they didn’t know in nearby Kfar Chabad - were able to make it in time, though without their luggage. Thirty passengers remained in the airport, including children.
ZAKA volunteers, who are more accustomed to working with medical emergencies and burial arrangements, worked against the clock to try to make the stranded passengers’ Sabbath a comfortable one.
In coordination with Ben Gurion Airport’s Rabbi Nissim Elimelech, El Al Rabbi Yochanan Chayut, and others, they found host families for some families, secured a hall for the passengers’ use in the airport, and furnished it with mattresses and blankets from the Petach Tikva municipality. Prayer services were held in the airport synagogue, and food for the three Shabbat meals was donated by a Bnei Brak caterer and bakery.
Zaka volunteer Avigdor Stern told Israel National News, “It was truly amazing. Nothing was missing: there were pillows, blankets, diapers, food, cakes, everything. It was beautiful to see people from different countries and speaking different languages singing the Sabbath songs together under the circumstances.”
Stern noted specifically Shtesel Caterers and the HaTzvi Bakery, both in Bnei Brak, for donating the food and baked goods, free of charge.
“It was an inspirational Shabbat,” said another ZAKA volunteer, Beraleh Yakobovitch. “Everyone sat around the table and sang Sabbath songs, while hundreds of curious bystanders saw how we sanctify the Shabbat and the Creator. It was wonderful.”
ZAKA Chairman and founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said, “We recently completed a day of training for its special EL AL unit at the airport, which is ready to act in any emergency. Little did we think that, just a few weeks later, we would be dealing with a situation such as this!” The various bodies that participated in Friday’s preparations will be meeting on Wednesday to review the incident, so that next time they will be even better prepared.
Stern said that the Israel Airports Authority has already expressed willingness to cooperate totally with the Sabbath needs of passengers who might, in the future, be forced to arrive after the Sabbath begins. He said that passengers in such a situation are permitted by Jewish Law to walk freely around the airport, which is all one domain, though they must take care not to activate electric doors, walkways and the like.