EL AL Flight Diverts Over Shabbat Curfew

EL AL doesn’t operate flights over Shabbat (from Friday evening until Saturday night), so when you look at their schedule, you’ll see there’s always a gap there. Planes on the ground in Israel will stay there, while planes at outstations will simply be parked there for 24+ hours.

That seems complicated enough, though this is something that became even more complicated a few days ago due to a snowstorm, as reported by The Times of Israel.

EL AL flight diverts over Shabbat

There was a huge snowstorm in the US earlier this week (as most of you probably know), so both EL AL flights from New York JFK to Tel Aviv were delayed significantly.

Religious passengers were concerned that they wouldn’t land before sundown on Friday, but the crew allegedly assured them that they would. Unfortunately the flight wouldn’t land in Israel before sundown.

There seem to be two versions of this story circulating.

Some passengers say that halfway through the flight a group of passengers allegedly grew violent, began assaulting the crew, and threatened to break down the cockpit door. It got so bad that the flight had to divert to Athens.

One Facebook user who was on the flight shared the details (this is translated):

After 24 hours to reach Israel, I am broken, broken mainly because of the lack of respect of people who are observant, who observe tradition and Shabbat, who took this issue a step too far.

After six hours of flying, I suddenly heard screaming and saw a flight attendant crying after she was hit, pushed, amid threats they would break open the door to the cockpit.

I found myself standing and [physically] protecting flight attendants who were crying and who just wanted to catch their breath after the [violent] behavior toward them.

Another passenger recounted the following:

Within a deep sleep, I hear shouts of ‘liars, fraudsters’ and hands waving and beating flight attendants who broke down in tears. If I didn’t see it, I would not have believed it.

That’s only one side of the story, though. The other side of the story is that:

  • The flight was delayed because the crew was hours late, which was due to the challenge of transporting the crew as a result of the bad road conditions.
  • When it was clear that they’d land after the start of Shabbat, some passengers demanded to get off the plane. The pilot announced they’d return to the gate to get them to sit down, but didn’t.
  • This passenger says he didn’t see any violence (which isn’t to say there wasn’t any), but rather saw “disappointment, anger, and raised voices.”

So the plane diverted to Athens, where passengers who wanted to observe Shabbat could spend the night if they wanted to. Meanwhile those who wanted to continue were rebooked on an Israir flight three hours later.

That wasn’t the only plane impacted by this. There was also a second EL AL flight from New York that was in a similar situation, and the flight was going to divert to Rome following protests from passengers. However, the plane allegedly continued to Israel due to the medical condition of a woman onboard who needed to reach Israel.

My take

I respect everyone is going to have different opinions here, and I’m not here to chime in on the merit of observing the Sabbath or not. If that’s something you do, I totally respect it.

I do have a few general thoughts. Let me first note that one of the flights was originally due to land in Israel at 2:10PM, and the sunset was around 4:40PM:

  • If it was so important for passengers not to travel on Shabbat, weren’t they cutting it really, really tight? If the flight was scheduled to land at 2:10PM, wouldn’t you assume it would take at least 90 minutes to get through immigration and to get to either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (since you’re not supposed to drive during Shabbat either)? That leaves a buffer of about one hour. Delays happen in air travel, and a flight scheduled to land 2.5 hours before a hard deadline is just way too risky. If I had an important commitment I couldn’t miss, you can bet I wouldn’t book a flight landing just two hours before it. If I miss the meeting, that’s on me. I should have flown in the day before, flown in 12 hours earlier, etc.
  • There are international aviation laws, and threatening or assaulting a crew member, or threatening to break down the cockpit door, are simply inexcusable no matter what. Assuming the reports from the flight are accurate, why does EL AL tolerate that? Anyone who threatens to break down the cockpit door — regardless of the reason — should be arrested.
  • It sounds like EL AL handled this situation horribly, and that they should have communicated better with passengers, and given people realistic expectations. People should have the option of staying in New York when they knew they’d be cutting it tight, rather than the crew allegedly lying to passengers.

What a situation…

(Tip of the hat to Micah)

Comments

  1. This is what happens when you pander to a extremist religious right, who believe their religion takes precedent over everyone elses human rights and feel they can do as they please with impunity while harming others.

  2. Uh oh lucky..you got yourself in a really bad spot here and a lot of people will be pissed off at you for publishing this with researching properly the other side of the story
    According to a few accounts the pilot lied to passengers, and no violence happened.
    Read dansdeals for another passengers perspective..
    @lucky you can’t publish such blanket statement against religious people without hearing both sides, I’m sorry….

  3. @ben
    First of all the flight was supposed to land at 11:50am.
    Second of all sadly the left wing Israeli Media has taken everything out of proportion and is incorrect on many points. Pm me for a more detailed and correct account off the matter based on people that have been there.

  4. @lucky please see many accounts that claim this is false, there never was any violence directed at the crew.
    What actually occurred was the pilot lied to the passengers, after promising to return them to the gate (after waiting on the tarmac for a number of hours), he promptly took off to their horror.

  5. Lucky, I wasn’t on the flight but unlike you I read both sides of the story before coming to a conclusion. There are currently 2 blog posts on the very same site that you quoted that tell the other side of the story, and many more on other sites. Some claim there was violence, but many claim there wasn’t. Present both sides and let ppl come to their own conclusion.

  6. I am Jewish and cannot stand the ultra-orthodox. I will no longer fly El Al because they are treated with kid gloves. On United, they are free to pray and use their personal space, but if they get out of hand or bother other passengers I’ve been happy with crew’s response.

  7. Lucky come’on you took an unsubstantiated ‘report’ of violence from an emotional quote and are making Sabbath observers out to be violent fanatics.

    I doubt what was quoted actually happened.

    I don’t get what’s with the bashing of religious Jews.

  8. All religious people of all religions should be sent away with guns to a remote island. They should kill each other and the remaining ones should be killed by the civilized people. Less guilt for the civilized people like this.

  9. You’re flying an airline that has a commitment to honoring Shabbat. I imagine that it is important to them to do that, and this is the reason they chose El Al. If the Vatican ran its own airline and they served meat on a Friday in the cabin, I’d be inclined to throw a fit too. I’m not condoning ever being violent to the flight crew (if that indeed happened) and I’ve personally witnessed observant Jews refusing to sit next to the opposite sex on Delta flights – which I think is absurd. But if you fly an observant airline, you rightly have a different expectation.

  10. You are 100% right, but there are already different versions of what actually happened. This is becoming a very big story

  11. My only question. What would have happened IF something like this occured over USA air space?

    It almost reminds me of the Korean airlines “nut” rage incident…and that was during taxing.

    Religion or not…violence is not the answer

  12. That’s why I would never fly El Al. The ultra orthodox make crazy demands and El Al doesn’t do anything except kowtow.

  13. Religion or not…Violence is the never the answer

    However, I m curious to know What would have happened IF this incident occured over the USA airspace? How serious would this have been?

    It almost reminds of the korean “nut” rage incident and that was just while taxing.

  14. Just to note that Israeli media reported that El Al decided to file a police report against those who allegedly got violent.

  15. It’s interesting (but unfortunately not unexpected) to see which 2 social media posts you chose out of the dozens reported.

  16. From a person on the flight:

    Here is the short of it. Our El Al flight was supposed to leave at 6:30pm. 3 members of the crew were late and we started boarding at 8:30pm during which the crew members arrived. At 9:10pm the flight doors were closed and everything was calm for about an hour.
    At around 10pm many of the passengers who were concerned about Shabbos starting asking the crew members for detail about departure and no answers were given other than we are leaving in 5 minutes. Keep in mind, that at 10:25pm sitting on a JFK runway,  El-AL’s website showed our flight as enroute having departed at 9:30PM.
    I was sitting in business class, my seat was directly next to the stairs going to second floor, and 3 rows behind the first class food prep galley. I heard every exchange. At no time was there any physical threat presented by passengers concerned about Shabbos.  I am loathe to use the term Chareidim, this was not some Neturei Karta protest full of black clad chasidim spewing nonsense. These were Jews from all walks of life and varied backgrounds who were concerned about Shabbos.
    At 11:35pm there were about 40 passengers, myself included, who stood by the exit door and expressed our wishes to disembark from the plane.  By this time we were sitting on the tarmac for two and half hours. One of the stewardesses told us that if they take us back to the gate and we get off the plane we would lose our tickets and not be rebooked.  I am not sure if she was trying to shock us into sitting or if this was the real policy, but our response was unanimous;. every single person said that’s fine, we are ok with that, just take us back to the gate so we don’t violate Shabbos.   Not one person said, “What?? No,you have to rebook us”, or, “you can’t do that”, there was a simple, basic understanding, we had Shabbos.
    At one point, someone whom I later found out to be Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin got on the intercom and said that he spoke to the pilot, and that the pilot guaranteed we would get to the airport before Shabbos, and that he (Rabbi Sorotzkin) arranged for everyone to have a place and a meal for Shabbos if they did not have time get to where they needed since we would arrive only one hour before Shabbos.

    Many of us, myself included did not sit down and expressed our desire to go back the gate.
    At that point the captain came onto the intercom.  He told us we were going to go back to the gate as soon as everyone was seated.  And we all went back to our seats.
    I can’t begin to describe the sinking feeling in my stomach as I saw the plane turn away from the terminals and face the runway.   In less than 6 minutes after telling us to return to our seats to go back to the gate, we were in the air. FY I- there was no Wifi on the flight which meant our only source of information for the rest of the flight was the El-Al crew.
    Four hours into the flight the Captain announced that because of the “Cheiredim” the plane would stop in Athens.  At which point, all the people who want to get off for Shabbos can get off the plane first, and then, (and here is the kicker), all the people who want to continue to Israel will also have to get off the plane and go on a different plane from IsraAir to go to Israel.
    What a shame… I wish El Al had announced the truth.  We were stopping in Athens because El-Al made a series of bad calls, and once they landed they could not depart on Shabbos which is why they needed an non El-Al plane to continue to Israel on Shabbos.
    This only caused the internal tension to rise and as our only source of information was the crew, who were less than helpful and not at all sympathetic . To be very clear, no one was angry at the stewardesses, everyone understood that they did not make the decisions.  We were requesting to speak to the pilot or someone who can speak for the pilot. Again, there was no attempts to break into the cockpit, there were no physical altercations. Yes, there were some raised voices, but most of the time (I have the videos showing) it was secular Israeli passengers who came to yell at the passengers who were concerned about Shabbos that we were ruining their weekend.  “

    He goes on the give an account of landing in Athens and the wonderful Shabbat they had there thanks to the local Chabad emissary.

    It seems that the big issue is the passengers being lied to by the pilots. If they wanted to disembark in JFK they should have been allowed to.

    As to your point about this flight cutting it close, you are correct, and a lot of religious Jews agree it’s not a good idea to take these late Thursday flights when going to Israel. A lot could go wrong and you could find yourself stranded.

  17. EL AL was in the right not to cancel the flight (the majority of the passengers did want to go on to TLV). The airline was more than accommodating in diverting to Athens.
    On the other items you are absolutely correct- if you are concerned about the Shabath don’t fly on a night flight on Thursday especially if the weather is looking poor.

  18. The violence story was debunked by multiple people including 2 nonreligious reporters that were on the flight.
    It would be illegal for them not to divert since they they are not allowed to legally fly passengers on Shabbat, the pilot had to know when they took off that they will divert.

  19. @rina They are not “legally allowed” to fly on Shabbat? So there is an Israeli law that bans just El Al but no foreign airlines from flying into israel on Shabbat?

  20. @Jim it is an el al policy. They didn’t land in Athens in deference to chareidim; they landed and then operated a new flight under “Israir” that is allowed to fly on Shabbat to accommodate passengers that wished to fly on Shabbat. That is what El Al always does in these situations. That is their policy.

  21. there are4 several points to be made.
    1, In general, true Orthodox Jews would not take a flight landing past mid day on a Friday.
    2, The airline was not pandering to the vocal passengers, the airline was obligated to abide to a written agreement they had made years ago, never to fly on the Shabbat. Exceptions have been made to this policy, most noteworthy, flying starving Ethiopian people to Israel on Passover eve.
    3, The pilot was under pressure to get the aircraft as close to Israel as possible because the aircraft is scheduled to serve as other flights ASAP when flights resume after the Shabatt. leaving the equipment in NY would destroy the schedule, better have it in Athens.

  22. From reading these posts it seems the provocation comes from the anti observant Jews, and as usual exacerbated from the media.
    Also, from reading all the posts, the Sabbath observants r right and the airline clearly lied to them and forced them (after 4hrs delay from the official departure time) to stay in the aircraft.
    If, after the fact, they should have forfeited their ticket and lost about $1,000 USD each, that’s another long story….

  23. Why is an airline that tolerates this kind of dangerous behavior — threatening to storm the cockpit and assaulting crew — allowed to fly in/out of the USA?

  24. Quick update here, folks. First of all, my apologies for originally sharing just one side of the story. I wrote this post yesterday afternoon before I saw any stories published with the other side of it, and that was based on multiple reports from witnesses.

    I’ve updated the post to add the other side, so hopefully that’s more fair now that there’s more information.

    Clearly EL AL handled this situation very poorly, though I’m not also sure I’d say there’s any “fake news” here. There are multiple reports of people having been violent towards the crew, and even those who say this was entirely EL AL’s fault acknowledge that people raised their voice towards the crew, etc. Since not everyone could possibly see everything, I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss those perspectives either.

    That doesn’t change the fact that EL AL clearly handled this situation horribly, though.

  25. And you can guarantee they will be looking to be compensated! Israel is amongst the most litigious countries in the world Delayed due to weather In which case they would arrive later Ridiculous religious zealots pushing their beliefs down everyone’s throats.
    This would not even happen on an ME3 carrier El al is the only one with such a restriction.

  26. He should have kept flying and shown these idiots that flying during the sabbath is harmless. The sooner we are done with these silly ancient superstitions, the better.

  27. @DT. Thank you very much for your very detailed account of what happened. It was refreshing to read something from a person who was there, and whose post is free of hatred, unlike the posts of many other commenters.

  28. ELAL is declared as a company that does not fly on Shabbat.
    They lied to passengers about real ETA – if the passengers would have known, the wouldn’t have got on to the flight.
    It is 100% ELAL’s foult, and no violence happened on the flight.

  29. Israel has a huge religious population. The NYC area has the largest Jewish area outside of Israel and a lot of them are religious [I’d say over a million]. Religion does not equal extremism! ELAL made a conscious buisness decision to cater to the religious Jews, after they were threatened with a boycott and decided they would not fly on Shabbat. In a democracy the people get to vote by the dollar and ELAL needs that.

    I was in Israel and the culture there is ME style. To get somewhere you’d have to scream sometimes, that’s the language the people understand. I personally saw non religious people standing in front of longer distance buses so to force the bus company to send another bus when they were full. There is no trust in the ME, youd have to shout sometimes.

    Evidence to the fact that religious Jews are a HUGE percentage of their customers is the fact that 60+ passengers had chosen to dismark in Ethens.

    ELAL treats their religious costumers as if they were trash. I personnlay boycotted them long ago. A captain lying to passengers is totally wrong.

    ELAL SHAPE UP!

  30. I have read all sides regarding this matter. There’s 15 min of my life I will never get back. Israel should have addressed the situation by attacking Gaza and killing more Palestinians.

  31. While I respect those who do not travel or work on the Sabbath, I must disagree with those abo who use religious observance to support policies that violate human rights, including the refusal to sit next to someone of the opposite sex on a plane (the same people who discriminate against women being allowed to pray with men at the Western Wall). Since the great majority of American Jews are either Reform or Conservative, perhaps until the State of Israel recognizes Reform and Conservative Judaism as being valid observances of the Jewish religion, El AL should not fly to the United States.

  32. it is technically harmless
    As Orthodox Jews we don’t believe that we magically disappear from flying on Shabbat, it is a Commandment from G-d which we have followed and will continue to do so, your comment was degrading and is insulting to all of the Jewish people.
    Would you say such a comment against Muslims for fasting Ramadan or Christians for their practices? Mormons for practicing Polygamy? Or any other Religion for that matter?
    I’M SURE YOU WOULD NOT!!
    @David SHAME ON YOU!!!!

    We do not believe in violence or the imposition of our lifestyle and ideology upon others, Orthodox Jewry is not based on the ideas nor does it support the radical impositions on non-followers.
    Being that there are not Orthodox Jews in the media radical ideas can be portrayed with no defense and with a tremendous lack of understanding.

    @Chuck Lesker: your comment was irelevant to the topic and inappropriate as well.

    The Israeli Government IS NOT a Traditional Jewish government it IS SECULAR and therefore does NOT reflect the values of the Traditional Orthodox Jewish population.

  33. omg [with a little “g”] …. religious extremists determining the operations of an airline. What sheer stupidity. Sit down, shut up, and they then fly the plane!

  34. Whether one agrees or not with ELAL’s policy regarding the sabbath, all blame should be directed at the Captain. At pushback, he had to know that conditions, combined with losing the original takeoff slot, would amount to a very significant delay on the tarmac which would result in the flight arriving well past sunset.

  35. How dare anyone accuse Lucky of antisemitism? Don’t degrade the notion of antisemitism by associating a harmless blog post with it. I’ve read all the sides now, I’d like this portion of my life back, and I have to say this is NOT a good look for all involved. Starting to wonder if some of these folks would divert a trolley to run over someone just so they could observe Shabbos.

  36. Ben, I really appreciate your views on this crazy story.
    I’m a Reform Jew and my wife is Orthodox. We’ve been dealing with travel and Shabbat with our kids for over 17 years. End of the day, we always felt that unless we were arriving at our final destination by 8am Friday, we simply didn’t book flights or trains at all. Way too much can go wrong(crew finally deciding to show up when the passengers were already there), as in this example, and now we have Jew vs Jew, even here in the comments. Because I will fly on Shabbat and she won’t, I know damn well that if we’re stuck in the airport and Shabbat starts, I’m done for the next 25 hours(not going to leave her alone). So, to avoid that, we just don’t travel anywhere near the cut off time. Before I got married, I probably had a much different point of view, much like the Reform Jews have. Being married this long to my best friend changed my mind on how things can work. If I had been on this flight with my family, what would have pissed me off was the pilot telling folks to sit down and he’d return to the gate so they could disembark, and then taking off instead. WTF. That’s the real story here, not Shabbat, what time Shabbat is, who’s right, the Reform or the Observant. Irrelevant. And then we have totally different stories from both sides and no one wins. I talk about this stuff on my youtube channel and blog…The Unlikely Marriage. Crazy world we live in, I just wish we could all see the others point of view and work together.
    Thanks for writing the article…really informative!
    Lew Dennen, The Unlikely Marriage

  37. If you are that religious, go live in a cave. Some of us aren’t stupid enough to fall for the religion scam.

  38. It is not the responsibility of the airline for passengers to follow their religious beliefs. If they were worried, they should have asked to cancel their flight. The airline does not promise to reach before shabbat

  39. Seems the same people who were blasting the entrepreneur in England wanting to establish a Sharia airline are the same people defending an airline that follows the strict ultra-rightwing protocol of another Abrahamic faith. Those of you know who you are and your hypocrisy knows no bounds.

  40. as a guy who is half jewish, my family was more culturally jewish than religious, what happens if israel is in a war or someone gets sick on friday do they just let the other side kill them in the war if one is very observant does he or she go to hospital, etc????? on the friday, such a stupid way to live one’s life, sort of like chick fill a being closed on sundays

  41. How ridiculous. No airline should pander to religious fanatics. If it had been Muslims most of the commentators on here would have been outraged at a flight being grounded. Hypocrites.

  42. Although there are two sides to this story, regardless of whether there was violence, demanding to get off a plane or just wasting hundreds or even thousands of dollars for shabat, is a bit much.

  43. Thought El Al had armed security officers on board all their flights but no mention of them taking any action! Also sunset was at 4.40pm? I know its winter in Israel but this seems very early for a middle eastern country.

  44. Thought El Al had security officers on all flights! No mention of them here. also sunset at 4.40pm? seems early for a middle easten country!

  45. @David and @Chuck Lesker You write that the Israeli government is :secular and does not reflect the values of the Orthodox Jewish population” but this is not true as the Israeli government has outsourced control over religious practice to Orthodox Jews who do not permit freedom of religion, even refusing to recognize Reform or Conservative Jewish practices and beliefs as being valid expressions of Judaism. Therefore, in Israel one can not perform a Reform or Conservative marriage or Bar Mitzvah. This not only represents a minority sect in Israel (OrthodoX) imposing its strict rules on other Jews, it is truly tyranny by the minority.

  46. Right or wrong isn’t it a federal crime to interfere with a crew?

    I’m amazed at those people who seem to think that it’s okay to denigrate a person of another faith to explain themselves. Good logic.

    Now onto my main question. Please excuse my ignorance regarding the Jewish faith and practices. Whilst I understand that a person of faith has certain obligations that need/have to be met but are there no deviations allowed to a person of Jewish faith for situations beyond their control. I ask because I have a friend who is an observant Muslim and whilst traveling he says that if he can observe the requirements of fasting and prayers he does, but when he cannot it is permitted to skip certain obligation but he has to make up the missed fasts and prayers later as soon as he can. Will it be the end of a persons salvation if they start the Shabbat a couple of hours late?

    Hoping for a calm and logical reply. Trying to understand. ✌️

  47. And this is another version of the story by someone that was there.

    EL-AL SPONSORED SHABBOS OF UNITY

    This Shabbos I had the tremendous privilege to be a part of something amazing, beautiful and enlightening. I am hoping El Al will see this and understand that there is a much better headline than the false headline “Haredim Riot On Plane” which I currently see online.   
    Here is the short of it. Our El Al flight was supposed to leave at 6:30pm. 3 members of the crew were late and we started boarding at 8:30pm during which the crew members arrived. At 9:10pm the flight doors were closed and everything was calm for about an hour.
    At around 10pm many of the passengers who were concerned about Shabbos starting asking the crew members for detail about departure and no answers were given other than we are leaving in 5 minutes. Keep in mind, that at 10:25pm sitting on a JFK runway,  El-AL’s website showed our flight as enroute having departed at 9:30PM.
    I was sitting in business class, my seat was directly next to the stairs going to second floor, and 3 rows behind the first class food prep galley. I heard every exchange. At no time was there any physical threat presented by passengers concerned about Shabbos.  I am loathe to use the term Chareidim, this was not some Neturei Karta protest full of black clad chasidim spewing nonsense. These were Jews from all walks of life and varied backgrounds who were concerned about Shabbos.
    At 11:35pm there were about 40 passengers, myself included, who stood by the exit door and expressed our wishes to disembark from the plane.  By this time we were sitting on the tarmac for two and half hours. One of the stewardesses told us that if they take us back to the gate and we get off the plane we would lose our tickets and not be rebooked.  I am not sure if she was trying to shock us into sitting or if this was the real policy, but our response was unanimous;. every single person said that’s fine, we are ok with that, just take us back to the gate so we don’t violate Shabbos.   Not one person said, “What?? No,you have to rebook us”, or, “you can’t do that”, there was a simple, basic understanding, we had Shabbos.
    At one point, someone whom I later found out to be Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin got on the intercom and said that he spoke to the pilot, and that the pilot guaranteed we would get to the airport before Shabbos, and that he (Rabbi Sorotzkin) arranged for everyone to have a place and a meal for Shabbos if they did not have time get to where they needed since we would arrive only one hour before Shabbos.

    Many of us, myself included did not sit down and expressed our desire to go back the gate.
    At that point the captain came onto the intercom.  He told us we were going to go back to the gate as soon as everyone was seated.  And we all went back to our seats.
    I can’t begin to describe the sinking feeling in my stomach as I saw the plane turn away from the terminals and face the runway.   In less than 6 minutes after telling us to return to our seats to go back to the gate, we were in the air. FY I- there was no Wifi on the flight which meant our only source of information for the rest of the flight was the El-Al crew.
    Four hours into the flight the Captain announced that because of the “Cheiredim” the plane would stop in Athens.  At which point, all the people who want to get off for Shabbos can get off the plane first, and then, (and here is the kicker), all the people who want to continue to Israel will also have to get off the plane and go on a different plane from IsraAir to go to Israel.
    What a shame… I wish El Al had announced the truth.  We were stopping in Athens because El-Al made a series of bad calls, and once they landed they could not depart on Shabbos which is why they needed an non El-Al plane to continue to Israel on Shabbos.
    This only caused the internal tension to rise and as our only source of information was the crew, who were less than helpful and not at all sympathetic . To be very clear, no one was angry at the stewardesses, everyone understood that they did not make the decisions.  We were requesting to speak to the pilot or someone who can speak for the pilot. Again, there was no attempts to break into the cockpit, there were no physical altercations. Yes, there were some raised voices, but most of the time (I have the videos showing) it was secular Israeli passengers who came to yell at the passengers who were concerned about Shabbos that we were ruining their weekend.  

    This in itself was absurd because we did not make the decision to stop in Athens and the majority of the religious passengers preferred that we continue to Israel and be stuck in the Tel Aviv airport.
    As the minutes crept closer to our arrival into Athens there were discussions on the plane about whether it was halachically better to stay on the plane or to disembark in Athens.   We had no clue what to expect. Would we stay in the airport? Was there a hotel? What would we eat?
    When they served breakfast I realized that the packaged egg which they served for breakfast and the half  a sandwich I had left from when I boarded the plane could very well be all we had to eat on Shabbos. I even put some nuts into my backpack for Shalosh Seudos.
    When it was clear that we were landing in Athens and we would begin our descent we returned to our seats.  Many of us tried to separate our Muktza items and to make sure our Tallis and Siddur were easily accessible.
    After the plane landed and we stopped we disembarked on one of those rollaway staircases to get onto one of several shuttles. I was one of the first people onto the shuttle and I watched as dozens of more Yidden came off the plane with no other thought than, to stay on the plane would be chillul Shabbos, and getting off the plane was the best chance of keeping Shabbos.   Chasidim got off the plane, men with black hats, colored shirts, in t-shirts, in suits, women with sheitels, snoods, no sheitels, in skirts, in pants; everyone coming off the plane was united in one thing – We believe in Hashem, and his Torah, and Shabbos was our gift and our inheritance and we would keep it.
    As the first shuttle was full and started towards the airport (there were more shuttles behind us) everyone broke into a song for Shabbos Kodesh.
    Once we got to the airport we were met by a women from El Al who was very sweet and took the time to explain to us that we were would be staying across the street (literally) at a hotel and they would take us as soon as the other shuttles arrive.
    As they led us into the hotel it was very chaotic.  There were four hotel clerks and people started surging towards the front desk.  At that point, one Rabbi, whom I later learned was Rabbi Akiva Katz yelled above the crowd and explained to everyone that we would need to create orderly lines in order not to overwhelm the clerks.  He also let us know that they had set aside a place for davening and that Chabad had prepared food. This helped reduce the stress in the room and the process became more orderly as people were focused on getting to their rooms and ready for Shabbos in the 40 minutes we had left to Shkia.
    Walking into Kabbalas Shabbos (I was late) was beautiful. The room was full of 60 or 70 men and about 10 women and everyone was singing.  Rabbi Jesse Horn from Yeshiva Ateres Kohanim led Kabbalas Shabbos. We were all so happy to be able to keep Shabbos, and the davening and level of simcha was very high. I think we must have danced four or five times during Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv.  
    After Kabbalas Shabbos we walked through the hotel to the dining area and I can tell you with 100% conviction that what I saw was beyond anything I could have imagined.
    85% of the dining area was reserved for our Shabbos meal.  The tables were set beautifully with bottles of wine, grape juice and challah rolls.   Where the hotel usually displayed it’s salad bars, and assortment of cold meats it was now filled with platters of gefilte fish, 6 or 7 large bowls with a variety of salads and dips, it was as if this had planned for weeks in advance. There was plenty of fleish for the main course and an assortment of side dishes to accompany it.   
    The Seudah was beautiful and everyone sang zemiros and niggunim and there were many Divrei Torah. Several people had stopped at the Duty free store to get bourbon and scotch for the Oilam, and it was very leibdige and the singing went on for quite a while
    I woke up several times during the night as I was still on NY time and every time I went downstairs to the lobby there were people learning together or talking about the Parsha.
    Shacharis was another beautiful davening and it was interesting to see how it was a mix of Nusach Sefard, Sefardi, Ashkenaz.
    After davening several people went to the kitchen to help Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hendel (the Chabad Shluchim in Athens) prepare for seuda.
    There were also two shiurim being given, one in Hebrew, and one in English by Rabbi Yossi Baumol.
    After the Shiurim we went to the dining room where like the previous night there were copious amounts of delicious food, a wonderful meat kugel wrapped in pastry, brisket, a large assortment of salads.  Unlike the previous night, where everyone sat next to people who were closest to them hashkafically, the seating during the Shabbos day Seuda was heterogeneous. Chasidim sat and schmoozed with Tzionim, Modox sat with black hats… I only use these labels so you can visualize the seating, but there were no labels at this Seuda, we sat in true achdus.
    The rest of Shabbos and the subsequent trip back to the airport and our return flight to Israel was unremarkable in that I don’t need to bore you with the details.
    First I would like to thank the following people.
    Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin who had the foresight before the plane took off to have his organization contact El-Al and Chabad and put pressure on to make this Shabbos happen.
    Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hendel, the Chabad Rabbi and Rebbetzin based in Athens, Greece.  They got the call at 11am Friday morning and by 4pm that same afternoon they had prepared a beautiful  Shabbos for 150+ adults which was not lacing in anyway.
    My 150+ new friends and passengers who gave me an experience and Shabbos I will never forget.
    Now a quick note to to El-AL.  Hi El-Al, I don’t know who handles your marketing and social media program but you wasted a huge opportunity.  Next time this happens, here is what you do. You make sure you get the same hotel and that Chabad sets up a beautiful Shabbos.  You hire a Greek photographer and video guy, you video the amazing Shabbos – and then you promote it as an El-Al sponsored Shabbos Unity.   If you need more advice feel free to call or email me, or just send me some tickets as a thank you.
    I would like to leave off with a few thoughts having just spent one of the most amazing Shabbos of my life.
    1.     150+ Jews from all backgrounds and hashkafic orientations, wearing every outfit possible walked off a plane with one thought – We will keep Shabbos, even if it means sleeping in an airport.
    2.  Unlike our Great Grandparents, who were fired if the did not work on Shabbos (USA), or where were ostracized, and possibly incarcerated for keeping Shabbos (USSR). How often do we get a chance to be moser nefesh for Shabbos?  This was a tremendous gift from Hashem to us that we had the chance to show Hashem how much we love him and his Torah, and we ALL took it.
    3.     Every parent in that hotel who was not able to be home with their children that Shabbos taught their child a lesson that they could not have taught them in a 100 Shabbosim at home.   They showed that Shabbos means so much to Mommy, Tatty, Ima, Abba, etc that they would walk off a plane in the middle of a foreign country with no guaranty of food or a place to sleep.  
    4.     Yom Tov in the Beis Hamikdash was probably like this Shabbos.   Jews from all over coming together for Hashem and his mitzvos.I hope to see all of my fellow passengers this Pesach bringing korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash.
    May we be zoche to see Mashiach and the return of the Beis Hamikdash.

    With much love
    Ben Chafetz

  48. @T … of course there are exceptions. And man-made gobblygook rules to allow themselves a “freebie” to escape the strict interpretation.

    Look up ERUV LINES. That’s one of the biggest scams that allows ultra-observant believers to feel good about themselves but gives them the symbolic right to do things they are not supposed to do.

  49. Having absorbed all information on this upsetting flight both on this site, and from religious and non-religious media, I’ve come to two contradictatory conclusions.
    1) Religious Jews who are in the know out not be flying on a Friday, things can and occasionally do go wrong, and knowing ElAl won’t observe Shabbat properly, I feel sadly that they have put themselves in this predicament. In London, (half your distance/time) most religious folks don’t fly on Fridays.
    2) Secular crew are only interested in the safe and smooth operation (quite rightly) of their aircraft, and ElAl must be commended for this, but some crew unfortunately want to stamp their secularism on religious people.
    I have flown ElAl and they (in general) have an extremely pleasant tolerant attitude towards other religions and diversities, except their own religious folks.
    This all comes from the head of an open minded non-religious ex pilot.

  50. Below is a transcript of the ATC audio provided by LiveATC.net The references to “Golf, Hotel, Alpha” etc. are references to ground locations on the taxiways. Kind of like street signs and intersections.

    Elal (11:23pm): Ground, good evening. Elal 002 on Golf short of Alpha. We have to return to the gate. We’d appreciate, ehh, to Alpha to Hotel Bravo.
    JFK Ground: Alright Elal 002 heavy, and you’re coming out of Golf
    Elal: Coming out of Golf, and we request Alpha and we are… approximate, we are eh…
    Ground: And you’re going to Hotel Bravo, right?
    Elal: Yes I am
    Ground: OK, Elal 002 heavy, you can taxi right Alpha
    Elal: Right Alpha, and hold short Hotel Bravo, 008 (Apparently saying the flight number of the other troubled El Al flight that evening before correcting himself,)… 002

    Elal (11:26pm): Will we be able to continue to the takeoff runway we have problems with some passengers. We will get an update in like 1 minute or 2 minutes. If it’s possible to wait here and then we’ll let you know if know if we can continue to the takeoff, or back to the gate
    JFK Ground: Alright Elal 002 heavy just hold short of Hotel then please
    Elal: Hold short of Hotel, Elal 002 heavy
    JFK Ground: And as soon as you know just update me please
    Elal: Thank you very much sir, I appreciate it

    JFK Ground (11:27pm): Just hold your position right there for now, and I’ll have further for you
    Elal: Holding position, Elal 002
    Elal: Elal 002 we’d appreciate to depart as soon as possible, otherwise the passengers will continue making problems
    JFK Ground: Uh ok Elal 002 heavy, you can continue on Alpha, just hold short of Hotel Bravo, change to ground on 121.65, she’s gonna get you the rest of the way.
    Elal: 121.65 continue on Alpha, hold short Hotel Bravo Elal 002

    Elal (11:29pm): Elal 002 short of Hotel Alpha
    JFK Ground: Elal 002 hold short of Juliet
    Elal: Hold short of Juliet, Elal 002

    JFK Ground (11:30pm): Elal 002 departure frequency when it’s time is 125.7
    Elal: 125.7 Elal 008 (Saying the wrong flight number for the 2nd time before correcting)…002
    JFK Ground: Elal 002 you’ll follow Air France cross runway 31 left, and tower is 123.9

    Kennedy Tower (11:42pm): Elal 002 heavy Kennedy Tower, caution wake turbulence, runway 04 Left. Line up and wait. Altimeter 2976
    Elal: 2976, 04 Left, line up and wait, Elal 002

    Kennedy Tower (11:44pm): Elal 002 heavy, caution wake turbulence winds 080 at 23, gust 38. Runway 04 Left. Cleared for takeoff
    Elal: 04 Left Cleared for takeoff, Elal 002

    Elal (11:46pm): NY Departure, good evening, Elal 002 out of 1,700 of heading 100
    NY Departure: Elal 002 NY departure radar contact. Climb and maintain 11,000
    Elal: Climb and maintain 11,000, Elal 002

    The plane was taxiing between 11:27pm-11:45pm and passengers didn’t stand up again due to the movement of the plane. Many passengers were shocked when the plane went airborne as the last announcement from the pilot was that they were returning to the gate.

    So, what happened between 11:23pm when the pilot requested permission to return to the gate and told passengers that they would be able to deboard and 11:26pm when the pilot requested to hold for a minute and 11:27pm when the pilot requested permission for immediate takeoff?

    Did the pilot have a change of heart and just want to be home for the weekend? After all, he got to fly the 747 home empty of passengers after landing in Athens.

    Or did the orders come from corporate even if it meant having to divert the plane? That way El Al could operate the return flight early Sunday morning from Tel Aviv to JFK using that same 747 aircraft.

    If that was the case it was surely a business decision, which is their right. But it’s a decision that will cost them more than the value of a cancelled flight in the long-run, especially considering the lies that were required to make it happen.

    Throughout the flight, the pilot refused to explain why he promised to return passengers to the terminal before taking off. Why didn’t he ever come clean? This mystery is unsolved for now, though I’d love to hear your theories!

  51. ‘This mystery is unsolved for now, though I’d love to hear your theories!’

    Obviously SATAN was the one piloting the airplane!

  52. El Al professes to be an airline suited to the needs of Religious Jews – the crew were in the wrong and El Al should dismiss them – there are plenty of Religious Jews ready to take their place. What other risks would the crew be willing to take ?

  53. I’m Jewish, and I have 0 sympathy for these religious morons. Didn’t want to miss your precious Shabbos? Shouldn’t have flown late on Thursday. It’s ridiculous that a business like El Al has to bow down to religious extremists when forming all their plans, including not being able to fly for a whole day.

    Ultra-religious Jews/Muslims/Christians are all the same breed of imbeciles. It’s beyond time to stop bowing down to their ridiculous demands. Why are they allowed to act higher than thou, treat gay people like shit, and push their demands on everyone else? To hell with their superior attitude.

    Israel can pretend it’s a secular state all it wants, but in many ways, it doesn’t treat its non-religious citizens much better than its Muslim neighbors.

  54. T in the USA: In response to your question about wether or not you could start Shabbat a few hours later. Believe me, I have floated that past my wife more than once. Short answer: NO. Just can’t. The Orthodox are that way for a reason…it’s their faith. They simply accept a certain way of life and that’s it. When I married her, I knew that was the case, and I have never tried to change her. We’ve had to work around a lot of stuff and travel is no exception. It’s why I stated that we just don’t travel anywhere near Shabbat because too many things can go wrong. Now, is it a mortal sin if you deviate? Dunno, I ain’t God. But, for them, it’s a very big deal. Hope this helps a little! 🙂
    Lew Dennen, The Unlikely Marriage

  55. Hahahaha! Reason number 76,002 why I am never going to Israel. We have enough religious whackadoodles here in the USA. Why go to countries where there is even more absurdity per capita than here?

  56. I went to Israel for the first time in 2018. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever go back. The law is above sense. It historically always was.

  57. Jo: why would you not go back? I’ve been 4 times, three with my family. My kids love it. No place is perfect. Nice people, amazing history, incredible landscape. Give it another chance…
    Lew Dennen, The Unlikely Marriage

  58. I am Jewish and live in South Africa. I am not religious but my brother is and he ran kosher tours to Botswana. They would go ballistic if he did not have certain items..
    Here is my take. Kosher was for Jews living in Shtetls in Eastern Europe. You must stay home if you want to be kosher and not think you can get it in remote Botswana or while climbing Mt Everest. What’s more you should not complain how expensive it is at Victoria Falls. Look at the cost to get it there. Needless to say he gave up this business.
    While travelling on airlines is admittedly different what happens if you are diverted to Irkutsk like the Air France flight. Where will you get kosher food?
    Similarly with flying on Shabbat. If you are really that obsessive you should take the Tuesday or Wednesday flight.

  59. I actually want to thank Lucky for this post.
    The opinions expressed are excellent, with the usual moronic troll exceptions.
    Mishandled, poor decisions and finger pointing.
    Sounds like every day in Israel.

  60. Abe – You certainly can. Religious extremists of all religions are at best mentally ill or at worst stupid and gullible. They should either be treated or shunned – not pandered to.

    Though of course El Al is in a difficult position due to the number, power and influence of religious nutters in Israel.

  61. @Chris

    People need to STOP using this ridiculous term “antisemitism”. News flash. People do not, again do not have to like the Jews, for whatever reason. Many do not like Blacks, Latinos, Asians or their neighbours for a full on stream of ridiculous reasons. Many men hate women, and many hate gays and lesbians etc. Jewish people running around shouting “anti semitism” need to stop!!. We are ALL tired of hearing it.

    For the record I love Jewish culture and think Jewish men are hot ;-).

    If the pilot lied then he lied. If people are soooooo concerned they should have been on flights earlier in the week. All sounds like a bunch of nonsense regardless.

    Things happen in life! Tough break is what I’m sure many Palestinians are thinking as they continue their lives in a daily prison.

    El Al is a funny/interesting airline for us plane geeks.

  62. Wait, so the passengers stood up and demanded the plane return to the gate when on the taxiway just because they estimated that they wouldnt reach Israel on time… And we are even discussing this? Had they tried this on any other airline, they would be arrested, possibly on a no fly list. The cheek on some people

  63. A perfect example of one group believing that their rights negate the rights of others. Do they really believe God would not have understood their situation? It is hard to have any sympathy for people whose lives were not in danger but who decided that their needs eclipsed others. I’m ashamed of Jews who treat others like this.

  64. Times like these is when it show if people are inflexible about their religion (and anything else). Even if you are super religious, you have to understand that sometimes, logistics, weather, or anything beyond your control will is in play.

  65. This thread is a lesson in the Hebrew language. I’ve had to google almost every word of it–the religious lexicography is fascinating.

  66. “it is technically harmless
    As Orthodox Jews we don’t believe that we magically disappear from flying on Shabbat, it is a Commandment from G-d which we have followed and will continue to do so, your comment was degrading and is insulting to all of the Jewish people.
    Would you say such a comment against Muslims for fasting Ramadan or Christians for their practices? Mormons for practicing Polygamy? Or any other Religion for that matter?
    I’M SURE YOU WOULD NOT!!
    @David SHAME ON YOU!!!!”

    1) there is no god and there was no commandment. It’s all a human invention.

    2) I would and have said the same thing about all sorts of religions. They are all nonsense and all the absurd superstition is a relic of a very distant past. Modern humans should be embarrassed to be part of any of this crap.

  67. Jordan – if you “don’t like” black people you’re racist. If it’s Jews you’re antisemitic.

    You’re allowed to think whatever you like, but if you express racist views you’ll be called a racist – and quite rightly.

    I’m tired of hearing the antisemitism card used for any criticism of Israel, but if you’re actually being antisemitic you definitely need to be called out for it. It’s how we teach people that it’s not acceptable…

  68. Ben – I can’t take the word of people who follow such moronic practices remotely seriously.

    Even if your no doubt biased sources were correct, screaming at and shoving flight attendants because your imaginary friend wants you home before dark is pathetic.

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