By Larry Gordon

There’s falafel, shwarma, and El Al.

Come to think of it, over the week in Israel we did not have any falafel or shwarma—not because we don’t indulge in this indigenous cuisine, but there was only so much time, so many restaurants, and, unlike things once were, so many culinary choices.

But there is only one El Al—the airline of Israel.

The first time my wife and I went to Israel together—when Malkie was ten weeks old—we traveled on British Air with a stopover in London. I had a backpack specially designed to transport a baby, and that helped, somewhat, on our trek through Heathrow Airport.

But after that, it was usually El Al, through its various iterations and ownerships, whether private or governmental, as it sought to be the airline that our people (to state it softly) use to travel to Israel.

Arguably, I believe it’s uniquely Jewish that choosing an airline also makes a nationalistic statement or even a religious commitment. But for many of us, for decades now, flying El Al has been exactly that. Of course, we may fly other airlines from time to time for convenience or scheduling considerations, but I feel that there has always been something special about the connection between El Al and our community.

Kenny Rosenberg

As has been widely publicized over the last year or so, the majority stakeholder in El Al is the family of New York native and healthcare entrepreneur Kenny Rosenberg. And as I learned last week in my meeting with El Al top brass at their offices at Ben Gurion Airport, the determination to serve our community is greater than ever before in El Al’s history.

Last Wednesday, after spending part of the day in Tel Aviv, we traveled to Ben Gurion. We passed through a series of gated checkpoints somewhere quite a way off Highway 1 to Jerusalem to visit with El Al’s executive team.

Avigal Soreq

I met with new Chief Executive Officer Avigal Soreq, an Israeli Air Force veteran who has assumed leadership of the company as El Al battles its way back to international travel prominence after a year in which travel was virtually brought to a halt due to the pandemic. Avigal is a retired major in the Israeli Air Force and served as commander of a Patriot Battery. He lived in Nashville for the past ten years, as a COO at Delek U.S. He returned to Israel after accepting the offer to become CEO of El Al and sees the position and challenge of guiding El Al on a path of success as his life’s mission.

El Al, along with the travel industry in general, is making its way back, albeit with a number of obstacles placed in its way by constantly changing government policy on how international travel interfaces with airline schedules. But someday very soon, we will either overcome or learn to deal with the challenges presented to our desire to travel.

Regardless of those shifting policies, at El Al it is full speed ahead to make the airline the primary company we book for our travel to Israel.

Omry Cohen
Shloimy Am Shalom

I spent an afternoon last week with two personable executives of the airline, Shlomi Am Shalom, head of the CEO staff, and Omry Cohen, who was CEO at Mr. Rosenberg’s Centers Health Care company before being brought over to assist in the immense undertaking of revolutionizing an airline.

Am Shalom is a veteran of Israel’s Maritime Service. After 30 years of dedicated service to the defense of Israel, and now at the age of 55, he is in charge of the day-to-day management of El Al.

Until this past week, Mr. Cohen and his family lived in the Five Towns, in Cedarhurst, New York, where his children attended our local yeshivas. One of the things that he mentioned in our meeting was that he was headed to New York this week to pick up his family, after which they will all fly back to Israel together.

El Al is a first-class professional organization, but still we agree that unlike other airlines, El Al is somewhat “heimish” when it comes to the accommodations they can and want to make for their clients. Omry explains that when community emergencies and requests arise, the airline tries to do what it can—within the confines of the rules and regulations—to accommodate the needs of a passenger, group, or community. Just recently El Al partnered with United Hatzalah to send a psycho-trauma team to the Surfside disaster site. Projects like this always involve El Al’s entire executive team from the top down to be sure the needs of the community or passenger are met. It’s a sensitivity that other airlines don’t always exhibit.

Omry cites one example where a flyer texted him to say that he had a wedding in New York on the evening of his flight to Israel and asked if, just this once, it could be arranged that he could arrive at the airport only a half-hour prior to takeoff. Of course, that is not encouraged, but it speaks to the comfort level that an airline can share with its customers.

On a personal note, last week we flew business class on the new 787-900 Dreamliner, which is indeed a great way to fly. The setup is that there are groupings of two seats in the center section; however, the positioning of the two seats alternates by row; in the odd-numbered rows, the seats are angled toward each other, while the center seats in the even-numbered rows are angled away from each other so as to afford more privacy to those passengers traveling alone.

As it turned out, our seats on the way to Israel faced one another, but I noticed that our seats on the flight to New York were facing away from one another. I was a little apprehensive, but after I heard the story about the person who wanted to arrive at the airport a half-hour before departure, I texted Omry about my seating dilemma. About an hour later he texted me back one word: “Resolved.”

The El Al offices are not just impressive but actually breathtaking. Sitting in Mr. Am Shalom’s office we can look out large show windows that are probably about 150 feet from several runways. Of course, Ben Gurion is not as busy as it must have been prior to the onset of the pandemic, but there is still a steady flow of planes taking off and landing on a regular basis.

Shlomi invites us to walk over to his jeep in the nearby parking lot and after passing through a series of gates that were opened for us, we drove as close as anyone can get to a runway at any airport, especially here in Israel.

The Boeing 787 is a state-of-the-art aircraft designed for El Al with maximum comfort and convenience. The seats open to a full-extension flat bed and feature a pillow and comfortable down blanket. Except for the fact that you are floating 36,000 feet in the air at about 600 miles per hour, it is as comfortable as any hotel room.

One of the additionally important things that the new El Al management is focused on is the food service on board the flights for all passengers. While you can order super-kosher mehadrin meals on these flights, I noticed that the regular El Al meals have several hashgachahs or supervisory agencies vouching for the strictly kosher, high standard of all food served on board.

I can say from personal experience that this is not stereotypical airline food. A flight of this length to or from Israel generally features two full multi-course meals. The bottom line is that you are not arriving in Tel Aviv or in New York hungry.

As travel is slowly but surely stepping beyond the pandemic that was so limiting and restrictive, El Al is rising to the occasion. The major difference between El Al and all the others is that this is our airline, and that is important.

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