A group of Jewish aviation enthusiasts in New York jumped into action to help over 150 Jews stranded in Halifax, Canada, for Shabbos, after their El Al flight was forced to make an emergency landing.
El Al flight 26 took off from Newark for Tel Aviv around 8:00 p.m. Thursday night, but soon thereafter, due to smoke in the cabin, made the emergency landing at Halifax.
A group of frum pilots and aviation enthusiasts who follow flight news and receive alerts when a plane is in distress, knew by 10 p.m. that this plane would be landing in Halifax, one member of the group, Sruli Kozlik, told Hamodia in a phone interview Friday.
“Though the smoke issue turned out to be minor, once you land under an emergency in a foreign country, there is paperwork and customs; you cannot just turn around and take off,” says Kozlik. “We realized pretty quickly that these people would be stuck there over Shabbos.”
Kozlik and his friend Avi Cobin, another member of the aviation group, started discussing how to get food to the stranded passengers. Through their social-media group, Kozlik and Cobin made contact with an El Al pilot who put them in touch with the captain of Flight 26. The captain informed them that there were 157 people, including crew, on the plane, who had been put up in three area hotels – two at the airport, and one some distance away, near the local shul. Dozens of passengers are Shomrei Shabbos.
Kozlik and Cobin, by now joined by a third member of the aviation group, Shloimie Friedman, were in a car in Boro Park at 3:45 a.m., driving around and making calls to try to help their brethren in need.
By 5 a.m., they had been put in touch with Chabad Rabbanim in Halifax. The Rabbanim said that while there was a kosher bakery in town and they could scramble to make enough challahs and dips for their unexpected Shabbos guests, there was no way they could provide the 500 substantive Shabbos meals necessary to feed the 157 people.
“We knew we would have to push to get this done, somehow,” says Kozlik. “We called Eli Rowe, a founder of Hatzalah Air. Their Learjet was unavailable due to a previously scheduled trip, but he suggested reaching out to Hatzalah in Montreal. They got two boys to fly to Halifax, on the last plane before Shabbos, and bring a few boxes of essential items on a commercial flight. But we knew it would not be nearly enough to give these people a normal Shabbos.
“We got in touch with Gourmet Glatt and Chap a Nosh in the Five Towns, and mi k’amcha Yisrael, they immediately and graciously agreed to provide full Shabbos meals, free of charge.”
By 8 a.m., in videos now widely seen across social media, boxes of kugels, chicken, beef, fish, salads, cakes, fruit platters and dips were being packed for shipment to 157 people who would indeed be able to enjoy a “normal” Shabbos, though one they will never forget.
“Our hope was to be able to participate with actually bringing the stuff over to Halifax,” says Kozlik, “but due to Shabbos being so early, it would have been impossible for us to make it back to Brooklyn on time.”
They arranged for a non-Jewish pilot to fly the items on a business turboprop jet plane, which was in the air by early Friday afternoon.
“We love to fly,” says Kozlik. “It is a passion for us. And it is great when we can combine this passion with chessed. We often deal with much more serious problems than people being stuck for Shabbos. Sometimes it is transporting chemo patients, or conducting search-and-rescues, or recoveries after tragedies. In this case, it was unfortunately a big inconvenience for these people, but nothing more. We know everything is bashert, and this will result in bringing together so many Jews for a unique Shabbos, and being mekadesh shem Shamayim.”
Updated Friday, January 10, 2020 at 2:38 pm .