A Bumped Flight, A Chinese Buddhist and the Day of Rest

As an Israel tour guide currently living abroad, I find myself frequently travelling back and forth to the homeland. I recently had an inconvenient, yet very special experience on my travels to Israel. I had a ticket to fly direct from Toronto to Tel Aviv and found out at check in that I was one of the few unlucky ones who does not have a seat on the flight and will have to get bumped to another flight. The only possibility that I could get on the original direct flight is if a traveler volunteers to give up their seat and does not have any luggage checked in. As I anxiously waited, I realized how absurd it would be to rely on someone travelling across the Atlantic without any luggage! The flight was scheduled to arrive in Tel Aviv on Friday morning and I had Shabbat plans in Jerusalem before guiding a group on Sunday. But then, someone volunteered herself as she happened to be travelling with minimal luggage and had no commitments upon her arrival in the Jewish State.

She happened to be a student traveler from China. I was so thankful to her, I even thanked her in Chinese – Xie Xie! But then, I found out that someone else got her seat, not me. Both she and I ended up taking a different route to Israel via Frankfurt, Germany. While we were waiting together to reschedule our new flights, I found myself explaining to her why flying before Friday sundown was so important. As a Buddhist, she was unfamiliar with the Judaeo/Christian concept of the Sabbath (Apparently, the Buddhists celebrate a day called Uposotha, but based on our conversation, their practices are very different from each other.) I also realized that I was going to have to send some emails out to the Jewish community in Frankfurt to make sure I have Shabbat hospitality during my stopover.

She was so interested to hear more about why I don’t travel on Friday nights or Saturdays and didn’t understand why I was contacting complete strangers in Germany to eat with and lodge by. We certainly had an interesting conversation at the airport. I explained to her that the Hebrew Bible teaches that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. As a result, we reenact the Creation story each week by doing creative work for six days and resting on the seventh. She was in utter shock when I explained that the universally accepted seven day week cycle along with the restful weekend concept originate from the Biblical Creation story. She was equally impressed that she is meeting someone who still follows these ancient laws and ideas. She asked me how I spend my time on Shabbat. When I told her by turning off technology and spending time with my family and community through conversation, meals and prayer, her glowing smile was one I will never forget! But then she questioned me about my plans for the Day of Rest in a foreign country where I did not know a single person and assumed that Shabbat could not be observed outside of my local community. She responded with yet another unforgettable smile after explaining to her the concept of Jewish unity worldwide and that I would find other Shabbat observers in Frankfurt whom would celebrate Shabbat with me.

I ended up catching a flight to Tel Aviv on Sunday morning after receiving wonderful hospitality from the Frankfurt Jewish community. Furthermore, I have strengthened in my belief in the Creator of the Universe and Lawmaker of the Day of Rest after conversing at the airport with a Chinese Buddhist! Initially, I was upset when I found out I was getting bumped on my direct flight to Tel Aviv, but I later was assured by my new friend that it was all simply Karma!

About the Author
Rabbi Shaanan Scherer currently lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife and 3 children. After spending over a decade living and learning in Israel, Shaanan brings his Israel experience to both his classroom and on his child- centered Israel tours that he guides in the summertime.
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