By Rabbi Yaakov Pinsky
Director, Chaiyanu/Chai Lifeline Israel
August 8–I have just witnessed one of the most incredible stories regarding El Al that I have ever come across in my life.
Today we sent 30 Israeli children with cancer to Camp Simcha in the United States for a life-affirming break from their illnesses. For the past 20 years, El Al has been our partner in the process, helping us to make sure our children are safe, secure, and happy during their journey.
After everyone was checked in, the Chaiyanu medical staff gave our children a final pre-flight examination and our group was seated on the flight. Once everyone was comfortable, our senior staff member collected the passports to have them prepared for entry into the United States. The passports were counted, and to everyone’s shock, one was missing.
No one could find Inbar Chomsky’s passport. Our staff looked high and low, in and under every seat and seat pocket. No passport was found. The flight attendants immediately called the ground crew to help them locate the lost passport. The airport was alerted, and they too searched everywhere from the boarding gate to the El Al aircraft.
Time was passing fast and the flight needed to depart. Still no passport was found. The ground crew entered the plane and searched frantically for Inbar’s passport. After 25 minutes of pulling apart the aircraft, the crew admitted defeat. El Al had no choice but to tell Inbar that she could not fly. El Al sadly called her mother to tell her that Inbar’s passport was lost and that the girl, who had been fighting illness so valiantly, would not be able to fly to Camp Simcha.
What a horrible experience for an 11-year-old girl to have to go through. As the reality dawned on everyone, passengers, crew, our group, and Inbar herself, the mood on the plane went from dismay at the inconvenience to sadness and shock that Inbar was losing her chance for a vacation from illness. It was terrible. It wasn’t enough that she has cancer, but now Inbar was facing another horrible disappointment in her life? The flight attendants were crying as they escorted Inbar off the plane. The doors shut, and the plane left the gate.
The plane was almost on the runway when some shouted that she found Inbar’s passport in another child’s knapsack. The news was heard on the entire airplane, and of course the crew immediately radioed that the missing passport was on the plane. But once a plane departs from the gate, it does not return to the gate to pick up a passenger.
So began frantic phone calls between the El Al staff and airline crew on the plane, the El Al offices on the ground, and the Ben-Gurion Airport authorities. It seemed hopeless. It really looked like Inbar was in for another disappointment. But after 15 minutes of phone calls, and a subsequent delay of more than a half hour, El Al did the unthinkable: in an unprecedented move, the plane returned to the gate to pick up this 11-year-old girl with cancer and take her to Camp Simcha.
Inbar couldn’t believe it. Her dream had come true! Those of us on the plane experienced something as well. Instead of the hostility that usually greets a plane delay, there were cheers and tears on that El Al plane, flight 007. Passengers and crew shared Inbar’s happiness and excitement.
Today was one of the greatest moments I have ever experienced. There are no words that can describe the heartfelt gratitude and appreciation we have to El Al and the Ben-Gurion Airport authorities. They have performed a miracle for some very special people today. It was an event for the history books, and everyone on that plane will be forever touched by El Al’s determination to accompany Inbar to the U.S. (TheYeshivaWorld.com) v