“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”: Inspiration from my return flight from Israel

I fly long-haul flights often enough to cringe when I contemplate the discomfort, dysfunctionality and sheer exhaustion of being in the air with so many other people in such close proximity.  I shudder when I think of the passengers who are rude and inconsiderate and the all-too-often “I’m in it for myself” attitude of those flying with 200+ strange cabin-mates for all those hours.

I expected the flight back from Israel this past week to be no different.  

Our late evening United flight was scheduled to be a full flight with 14 lap infants, one of them being my grandson, Judah.  There were scores of families flying together with over thirty strollers to be gate-checked.   I was flying back to New Jersey with my eldest and youngest daughters and my two grandchildren, ages one and two.  We did not have seats near each other and one of our seats had been reassigned, leaving us with three assigned seats for five passengers.

I expected the flight to be the worst one ever.   I surveyed the others families flying together. Some were speaking Hebrew; others were speaking English.  These families seemed to fit all across the religious spectrum.  Some managed to fly with a minimum of gear and some, like us, had three times as much gear as they had family members.  We were hauling a double stroller, three carry-ons, a diaper bag, a large car seat with a carrying case, a laptop case, two backpacks, a bag of food and snacks and a pocketbook.

At check-in, I couldn’t help but notice a pair of  T-shirt clad parents singing to their inconsolable infant as their toddler was running through the check-in area. My senses were in overload as we checked in one car seat and five pieces of luggage. My ears were tuned to the shrieks of  the infant at the counter next to ours and my other senses were startled by the sight and smells of young children everywhere. Kids were brushing against us as we were checking in and it seemed like sheer chaos. The kids were everywhere, but the parents were all incredibly calm.

It took the gate agents so much time to find our missing seat that we were one of the last passengers to board.  There was a single yeshiva student dressed in a crisp white shirt and dark pants right in front of us.  As we were heading down the jet-way toward the plane, I spotted the family that we had met at the counter.

Thankfully,  their infant was no longer shrieking.  I rounded the jet-way corner and was shocked to see that both the infant and the dad were shirtless.  There was a putrid smell filling the jetway with vomit covering a square meter of the jetway.

The infant had just vomited all over himself, his father and a great chunk of the jetway leading to our aircraft.    It was gross and smelly.  It was very disturbing. Until, I noticed that the shirtless father, the undressed infant, the mother and the toddler brother were perfectly calm.  The parents were soothing their children, assuring them that everything would be just fine.

I wasn’t so sure.

I offered to help the family. They had everything under control, so the yeshiva student and our family plodded on.  I complimented the parents on staying so calm and nurturing during this episode and then headed toward the door of the aircraft.

The yeshiva student contemplated for a moment and then headed back to the family struggling to clean up the mess.  He offered the father the white shirt off his back.  A smile lifted the corner of my mouth as I took note that the slim white shirt would never fit the burly dad.  I felt a tear run down my eye.  The father smiled and remarked, “Thank Bro’ It’s nice to be in this together.”  I knew then that this flight would be different than most of the other long-haul flights that I have flown.

I mentioned the problem to the flight attendant who was welcoming the passengers on board in order to enlist her help.  She went out to look at the messy scene and then came right back.  I could tell that the flight attendants were going to be of no use for this flight.

We moved to our two pairs of seats that were ten rows apart and on opposite sides of the aircraft.  We were carrying two children, a car seat with a carrying case,  three carry-ons, a diaper bag, a laptop case, two backpacks, a bag of food and snacks and a pocketbook. There was no room in the overhead bins and the flight attendants refused to help us find room for our belongings.

As we were settling the kids into the empty seats while finding space for our gear, one woman came by to tell us that she was an expert in securing car seats in airline seats.  She happily secured Avigail’s bulky carseat.  An Israeli man asked if he could help us find room for our gear.  He scouted out all the empty spaces in the overhead bins, moving things around and reporting back to us all the row numbers where he had placed all the gear.  We apologized for the chaos to all our neighbors, but most just smiled and played with the kids while we finished putting everything away.  We felt like we were surrounded by family who cared to make us comfortable, albeit in a cabin where the flight attendants had no interest in doing so.

The flight was long and there were some children awake and cranky at times.  Judah and Avigail slept for the majority of the flight and they played with the other kids and families when they were awake.  The passengers were helpful and kind and understanding of the challenges faced by young families flying with children. It made a world of difference and I was so appreciative and proud to be part of our functional and cooperative airline family.

In the upcoming week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim (Holy Ones), we are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)  Last week’s trip with the love and support of my wonderful airplane neighbors has truly inspired me.

Mi K’amcha Yisroel ? (Who is like the Nation of Israel)?



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