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Parshas Vayakhel - El Al    Part II                      28 Adar II 5784

03/08/2024 08:43:37 AM


Last week’s message focused on my personal El Al experience of the “Netilas Yadayim/washing cup” feeling of being on our national Jewish carrier. This week I will carry on with part II of this trip albeit from a totally different vantage point. While this issue primarily affects men traveling to Israel than it affects women, nevertheless, as you will read, women are definitely affected as well.

Decades ago, it was in vogue for men to daven at appropriate times during the flight. El Al was the one airline which commonly had minyanim on board with the staff understanding -and sometimes less understanding. This challenge of davening while standing in the galley or next to an exit has been increasingly more challenging. For me, personally, (and I wrote about this a few years ago) I followed my rebbi’s suggestion or psak that I should not stand while inflight but daven in my seat, even for those parts of the prayers that require standing, such as the Amida. So, as I mentioned in last week’s article, while on board my El Al flight, I was confronted with the following dilemma. Should I continue to daven in my seat as I’d, along with other passengers who also davened while seated, regardless of the airline, or join one of several minyanim of Chasidim which was taking place throughout this El Al flight? As I sat in my seat debating what to do, I noticed (and heard) a disgruntled woman trying to reach the restroom who was trying to navigate her way through the crowd of davening Chasidic men.  As I was in the process of retrieving my Talis and Tefilin from the overhead bin, a Dati Leumi (religious Zionist) fellow mentioned to me he was starting a minyan in a few minutes in the galley where a previous minyan was concluding. It sounded as though he was counting on me as one of the ten, so the decision to join him was made for me.  I think the minyan consisted of seven chasidim, one Sephardi, myself, and this Tziyoni who was the ShliachTzibur leading the davening. As I stood next to him and reached the section of saying kaddish he began to recite the mourner’s kaddish. It was then I realized he needed a minyan and wanted to lead, as is the custom for those mourning for a parent. As he began the kaddish, I turned towards him and saw more than I heard… saw his torn shirt. Not only was this man in mourning, but he was also in shiva - the first seven crucial days of mourning since burying his mother! At that point I felt vindicated davening with a minyan on the plane, as this deeply grieving fellow really needed me.

Five days later I was sitting in the bulkhead section, located right in front of the bathrooms and galley. A religious couple was sitting next to me; the husband was a very pleasant, soft-spoken individual, while his wife was quite outspoken. Several things about the trip disturbed her, but none more than a disturbance which took place about halfway through our fifteen-hour flight to LAX. A bunch of non-observant, post high school kids started to congregate, and as kids will be kids, did not have the awareness that some passengers were trying to get some sleep. They spoke loudly in large, close groups with no seeming awareness of the tightness of their surroundings, creating barriers that prevented people from reaching and accessing the bathrooms. These kids were all Israeli, loudly and enthusiastically speaking Hebrew without taking a breath. For a while, as I was kind of dozing in and out, I heard my neighbor complaining to her husband quite loudly, in an attempt to get the gathered dynamic group to “get the point”.  Of course it did not work. Finally, after a few hours of continuous teenage group dynamics, the woman could no longer contain herself (especially as her husband was ignoring her) and she went over to a few of the kids and said,” If your parents or grandparents were trying to rest and sleep, would you be standing here disturbing them?” At that, they were taken aback and began to apologize. Some of the group dispersed and went back to their seats while others remained but were much more aware of the decibel levels, they reached making overt efforts to lowered the volume to a minimum. I thought about the experience I mentioned earlier and how the religious were suspected of being inconsiderate while davening standing near a bathroom or blocking the aisle.  Here was the inverse – no davening, just happy groups of teens totally unaware of the disturbance they were causing.  I found irony viewing the different perspectives on the same airline.

I noticed one of the teens had a tee shirt which represented a connection between the area in Israel known as Shaar Hanegev with the San Diego Jewish Academy. At that, I took the liberty to engage several of these youngsters and sort of apologized on behalf of my co- passenger. They said it was ok and understood her point. But only a few short moments later, the woman herself rose up from her seat and began engaging with some of those same kids she had lambasted only a few minutes earlier. As she connected with them and realized that the purpose of their trip was to bring the Israel connection to unaffiliated Jews, she was touched so deeply that she basically offered any assistance to the group while they were in California for their ten-day trip. I reiterate, I don’t believe these stories would have occurred on airline other than El Al.

None of this should really surprise us, as we are known as Mi K’Amcha Yisrael” - who is like the Jewish nation? We find that answer or reason behind this in the Torah.

In this week’s Parshas Vayakhel the Torah states in Shmos 35:1 ויקהל משה את כל עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם, אלה הדברים אשר צוה ה' לעשות אתם"  “Moshe assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them: ‘These are the words that God has commanded for you to do.” I would like to suggest the reading of the passuk should not be understood in its plain meaning - that Moshe gathered the Jewish people to hear the words that Hashem commanded them which would be the Mitzvos, and so forth. Rather, read the passuk in reverse, that these are the words God commanded us to do. What is He commanding us to do? To do as Moshe did. To gather and assemble the entire Jewish people, end of story!  To gather us together no matter who we are or where we come from. In every generation we are commanded to gather the Jewish people together; to focus on become a unified community. I am glad to report that I witnessed the fulfillment of this verse, bridging together Jews from all over the world, from different backgrounds, different religious observance and yet all together up in sky “to the Above”. Perhaps the ‘above’ referenced is the Holy One Above!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784