HALIFAX – When El Al Flight LY26 from Newark was forced forced to make an emergency landing in Halifax on Jan. 9, many were reminded of the situation faced by air travellers diverted to Atlantic Canada after 9/11, which was immortalized in the hit musical Come From Away.
Smoke was detected in the plane’s cockpit about 90 minutes after takeoff, while travelling over the Atlantic, and the captain diverted the plane to Halifax Stanfield International Airport, where they landed at about 11 p.m.
Unable to depart the next day because Shabbat would have arrived before the flight could make it to Tel Aviv, the passengers spent almost 48 hours in the Nova Scotia capital.
The experience was described by many as memorable and uplifting, as about 150 passengers and crew were welcomed by the Halifax Jewish community.
I know I speak for all of us when I say we quite literally could not have made it through Shabbat without you.
– Barry Schechter
Bassie Feldman, the wife of Chabad Rabbi Mendy Feldman, was called by El Al personnel when the Boeing 777 landed. “They asked if I could help find accommodations and make food arrangements for some of the people,” she told The CJN on Jan. 11, after the flight left Halifax.
“We realized the stranded passengers would be anxious and wanted to make them as comfortable as possible. We wanted to show Chabad and Maritime hospitality.”
Many visitors experienced a Friday night Shabbat dinner and post-Shabbat services lunch on Saturday at Bet Chabad, near the Lord Nelson Hotel, which found about 70 rooms for the guests, and Beth Israel Synagogue. After hearing about the stranded passengers on Friday, several women from Beth Israel congregation prepared extra food for Saturday’s Kiddush.
Lili, from New Jersey, who didn’t want her last name used, was travelling to visit family in Israel. She said the pilot kept them well informed about the situation.
“Passengers who didn’t know each other started talking and became like family. There were young children and older people, and everyone in between, all being taken care of. We knew El Al would do anything they could to help. They flew staff from Newark to help us through the weekend.”
Lili was flying with her daughter, Nicole, 19, who was travelling to visit friends in Israel. A Yeshiva NY student, Nicole helped amuse the younger children while arrangements were being made for accommodations.
“They gave us three hotel options, two near the airport, and the Lord Nelson downtown, which was convenient for those wanting to celebrate Shabbat at shul and Chabad. The Halifax Jewish community who helped us was very inspiring, working hard to make us comfortable,” said Nicole.
Lili added that, “Travelling in these circumstances with Nicole makes this our story, a mother-daughter story we will never forget.”
Roni Sinai of Teaneck, N.J., was one of six men who walked to Beth Israel Synagogue for Saturday services. “The pilot didn’t take any chances. He was very professional and kept us informed,” he said.
Varda Avram, Eran Aloni and Muzi Haddad were all returning home to Israel after visiting family in the United States.
Aloni said that when they first realized something was wrong with the plane, it was “a little tense … but the captain was very friendly, informative and encouraging. The whole crew was co-operative.”
We wanted to show Chabad and Maritime hospitality.
– Bassie Feldman
Avram enjoyed the brief stay in Halifax. “We saw the city. Some of us even went to Peggy’s Cove (a standard tourist highlight of the area.) The Shabbat dinner at Chabad was wonderful. They even brought food from Montreal for us,” Avram said.
Bassie Feldman said she was told a “small number” would be coming to dinner, but when she found out that about 40 people would be attending, things became a bit more stressful.
“The day was short, with Shabbat starting around 4:30 p.m. In Halifax, it is difficult to find the volume of kosher food for that number, and the chicken would be frozen and wouldn’t thaw in time to cook. A group in Montreal was able to find extra food for us there and ship it to Halifax in time,” she said.
She and her husband did the cooking and setting up for the dinner. “Everyone pitched in later to help clean up,” she said. “It was very hamish, like everyone was family. It was warm, welcoming beautiful and inspiring. There was singing and dancing, a feeling of great camaraderie.…
“One woman was moved to tears, telling me how grateful she was for the effort we put in for them.”
On the plane ride to Israel, one of the passengers, Barry Schechter, wrote a note to the Feldmans, thanking them for “your incredibly gracious, generous and heartfelt hospitality in Halifax. I know I speak for all of us when I say we quite literally could not have made it through Shabbat without you.”
In a twist of fate, he noted that he and his wife were on their way to visit their twins in Israel, who were born on Sept. 11, 2001, “which is why I was not at the World Trade Center that day.”