Clear blue skies! Puffy white cumulus clouds! Perfect for a Sunday morning flight over the beaches, along the New York and New Jersey shorelines. This was a ‘FLY-BY FOR ISRAEL’ flight, a gem of an idea by Robert Keleti, founder of the Israeli New York Flight Club. Not only one single flight, but ten single engine four-seaters took off on Sunday morning, August 24th, from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, NY, flying at the low altitude of four hundred feet over the water to show support for Israel.
Keleti, a Federal Aviation Flight Instructor, conceived the idea and explained, “I want to show the world that many pilots in the United States know the truth about Israel’s fight against terrorism and how much support Israel has here in the US. It bothers me so much to see the negative media about Israel.”
Planned two weeks in advance, the participating pilots and student instructors, and public supporters, gathered in the spirit of the event with the opportunity to fly in those planes.
Using special blue tape, a few dedicated members of the club spent two evenings affixing Stars of David and accompanying stripes to the body and wings of the planes, creating Israeli flags. This would allow the crowds gathered on the shorelines to view the planes and the flags from below- from Jones Beach, to the Rockaways, to Coney Island, and onto the rest of NYC, continuing on to the New Jersey shore.
I learned of the event only early that Sunday morning, and it seemed too good to miss. A crowd gathered at the Terminal Building at Republic Airport to join the pilots onboard, contributing $100 each for the flight; some planes were privately owned and others were rented. The event had been advertised in a few local newspapers and on Facebook. Incredibly, more people showed up than could be accommodated. Excitement grew as people gathered. Supportive signs were created and there was time for a few photo-ops.
I had to quickly make a decision – to either join those in flight, or bolt to my car and head off, selecting a location in which to view the planes. What a choice! Forget what you would have done! I was invited to join those on one plane, but I chose to forego the 2½ hour flight along the magnificent coast. Instead, I decided to watch the beach crowd below and asses their interest as the planes would pass overhead.
As I drove quickly to Long Beach, in the hopes I hadn’t missed it all, I called my new student pilot buddy, Natan Hoffmann, who also served as the event’s coordinator. A student instructor who hopes to become a licensed pilot, Natan assured me they’d left the Terminal Building a bit late and would first be gathering overhead at Captree Bridge, so I’d have enough driving time. No sweat! I’d even had time to pick up a friend.
From my vantage point on a bench on the Long Beach boardwalk, with the sand beneath me filled with sunbathers and volleyball players, there came one plane, flying low, then another, another, another, until ten planes passed by! It was a fantastic show of support! After the first plane or two, people lying supine began to notice what they viewed above them, and several waved and pointed. The ‘blue and white’ weather above then contained the ‘blue and white’ support for Israel, the planes gliding below the blue skies and between the cottony clouds.
After their flight over Jones Beach and Long Beach, and passing beyond my view, the planes continued along the southern shore over Brooklyn beaches, then over the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan, and on to New Jersey and then looped around for a return to Republic Airport.
On their return, the planes flew more closely together, the flags on the undersides of the planes more visible with the sun no longer directly overhead. As each of the ten planes passed by on this return trip more people looked up. Some on the beach pointed, and grabbed for their cameras.
I decided not to head home, and hurried back along Loop Parkway, to try to join the group back at Republic. I could not resist, and back at the airport I caught the end of the group’s picture taking, and unwinding. Blue tape was removed from the planes. The exhilaration of the day was still palpable.
How is success measured? Keleti’s original idea had been to show support for Israel – from above- from EL AL pilots and others he has trained including student pilots, coming together as a family. As they passed over the shore, they hoped to see the reactions of those crowds, and from my bench vantage point I had seen this, too. I learned from the conversation back at the airport, that at times along the route people had even come prepared- some waving to the planes, others holding Israeli flags. The event was all about being ‘one’ with Israel! The success was seen in the pure joy of the participants; those who viewed the occurrence surely felt it, too.
Last week, before the current cease fire, as I watched those planes and aimed my camera at the skies, my Red Alert phone app beeped constantly. But as a New Yorker, though I was trying to feel connected to Israel with my app, I could ignore those beeps and no siren sounded. I knew though, that on the Tel Aviv beaches people were gathered too, enjoying the day, getting on with their lives, though their Red Alert apps were within arm’s length for attending to, if sirens sounded.
The Sunday event was not the only creative idea Robert Keleti has arranged, to show his support for Israel. Since 2009 on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, he has performed a NYC flyover! With his extensive experience, the planes fly in formation over the city, and as he put it, “land in a nice airport next to a big lake and make a barbecue.” BBQ’s and Yom HaAtzmaut go hand in hand, even in the US!
So far, the club Robert founded has about 50 members and its members are certified pilots and student pilots. Now living in the US, Robert was born in Hungary, and made aliyah with his family when he was two years old. He went on to serve in the Israeli Air Force, and in his 35 years as an instructor, has trained many EL AL pilots! Pilot Edi T is his right hand man; besides having been a former student pilot of Robert’s, he is now an EL AL security supervisor at JFK. When the club meets, its members discuss aviation safety, listen to lectures and have become a family.
Seated on my bench on the boardwalk, with my eyes glued to the skies, scanning for the planes with a Magen David on their bellies, I thought of one thing that might make this even more dramatic. I envisioned giant flag banners, affixed to each plane, or fluttering behind one plane as it flew into view. I later learned this already was a dream the club had thought of, but it is costly- a single banner costs $3,000. So, if there are any philanthropists out there or banner companies ready to donate, this would add to this already supportive, impressive happening the next time around!
If you’d like more information about flight training or to be part of the Israeli New York Flight Club, contact Robert Keleti at www.avation172.com You can also visit the club’s website which contains incredible flight videos and Israeli ‘ruach’ as well. Of course there is also the Facebook page:ISRAELI NEW YORK FLIGHT CLUB. When you see more of those photos on Facebook or on the website you are sure to say, “That 2 ½ hour flight must have been fantastic!”
Contributions to this fantastic supportive event for Israel for Yom HaAtzmaut would be greatly appreciated. Look for it next year – a formation of some sort by the 10-12 -14 planes, in a star or arrow shape, gliding over New York, in tribute to Israel! And perhaps with a new, huge blue and white banner of the flag of Israel fluttering by, too.