The Misaskim organization, known for the daily services that it provides to grieving families, has recently expanded its services by implementing a Shabbos Hotline, staffed by especially-trained non-Jews, to help coordinate any situations regarding k’vod hameis that should arise on Shabbos. This past weekend, true to the Misaskim slogan that reads “Im Hachaim …,” the emergency system played a vital role in a different way. Just hours before the onset of Shabbos, Misaskim was overwhelmed by calls for help involving three separate planes which had been diverted from Newark Airport due to inclement weather.
Several hours previously, a yungerman in Eretz Yisrael had received a chilling phone call informing him that his mother had become critically ill and requesting that he return home to Brooklyn immediately. Frantically searching for an appropriate flight to get him back to the United States as soon as possible, he found one that was scheduled to arrive four hours before Shabbos – which would usually ensure more than enough time to travel from Newark to Brooklyn. Before the flight was about to land, however, the pilot was told to change course and land at a military base in Bangor, Maine. What was the yungerman to do? Once Misaskim received the call, volunteers immediately began phoning their contacts at Continental Airlines and attempting to reach other air travel officials.
At just about the same time, another call came in about a flight from Chicago to Newark that was being diverted to Hartford, Connecticut. It was easier to make arrangements for that flight since it was domestic, but while Misaskim worked to resolve both situations, volunteers were notified of a third flight from Toronto that had been diverted to Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Although the management of Continental was very accommodating, and Misaskim’s friends in the Customs Department tried to be helpful, there was no way to allow the young man who was arriving from Israel to disembark at Bangor, since there was no customs official on hand at the military base. Misaskim convinced Continental management to tag the flight as a priority and it soon left again, heading towards Newark.
Misaskim then received word that the couple who had been diverted to Allentown were allowed to leave the plane, and that they would be able to obtain transportation home just in time for Shabbos. The individual on the Hartford-bound flight did not need special intervention to be allowed off the plane before others, but Misaskim did set him up for Shabbos at the Chabad House in Hartford.
Although everyone had been hopeful that the plane from Eretz Yisrael would arrive in Newark before Shabbos, it soon became evident that this was not to be. Quickly, volunteers contacted the specially trained non-Jewish workers who are involved in the Emergency Shabbos Initiative, and requested that they meet the plane as it landed. One Misaskim volunteer packed up as much food as anyone could want (and more!) for the whole Shabbos and sent a Shabbos worker, and the package, to the airport, as well. When the plane landed, customs officials and Port Authority Police Officers were standing by to whisk the young man off the plane. Misaskim’s Shabbos workers obtained the luggage and brought it, together with a siddur, chumash, and other Shabbos essentials, to the Marriot hotel in the inner circle of the airport, a location to which the yungerman could walk. Although there was no vacancy at the hotel, Misaskim arranged with the management to allow the young man to stay in the lobby for the duration of Shabbos.
Misaskim’s team of non-Jewish Shabbos and Yom Tov assistants are fully trained under the direction of Harav Yechezkel Roth, regarding all of the ways in which they may (and may not) help Shabbos observers deal most effectively with issues of k’vod hameis. The Misaskim Emergency Initiative has now proven itself to be an invaluable resource in other ways as well.