Betsalel Steinhart
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I’m one of those ‘violent’ religious passengers on El Al #002

It's El Al's fault that 200 of us got stuck in Athens for Shabbat

I am writing this as a response to the articles posted on the news and social media of violence on El Al 002 from JFK.

I was on that flight and as I type this, I am in Athens airport waiting to board my 11:30 p.m. flight back to Tel Aviv. (Which is another point: Why cannot they get a flight earlier? We all have to work tomorrow and will not get back until 2 a.m.!)

I am not Haredi, just a religious man who keeps Shabbat, and neither were most of the 200 of us who got off the plane in Athens rather than desecrate Shabbat. Maybe 20 percent Haredi at most.

Chabad here were fantastic and a potentially horrible Shabbat was memorable.

I did not see any violence on the flight after the captain announced the change of destination, although clearly I wasn’t watching every part of the plane all the time. If there was, then that is inexcusable.

I saw: disappointment, anger, raised voices, for sure.

Understandably. We all had plans for Shabbat. None of us wanted to be in Athens.

However: El Al, take responsibility for your actions. You were the problem here:

  1. The flight was delayed for 5+ hours from 18:30 to 23:45, not because of the snow but because the crew was hours late. Not their fault personally, but if 400 passengers can see the snow forecast and realize that coming early was advisable, why couldn’t the El Al crew or management who orders the bus not think of that? Their bus was ordered at 3:30pm; so order it for earlier! The excuse that the bus was stuck in traffic is inexcusable.
  2. It added insult to injury when after we were already waiting for two hours, the pilot shows up…with coffee in his hand. As in: I’m hours late and it’s not my fault, so I’ll let hundreds of people wait longer while I get my coffee.
  3. The captain blatantly lied to us. At 23:40, when it was clear that if we took off, we would land shortly before Shabbat in Israel, many religious people were demanding to be let off the plane. In order to get them to sit down the pilot announced that we were returning to the gate and to please sit. He then drove and took off within a few minutes — and of course in your seat you have no idea where the plane is driving towards. Lies.
  4. Taking off in bad weather 9.5 hours before Shabbat comes in is irresponsible. Telling the religious passengers to get off if they want to in Athens — I felt, lehavdil, like I was in Entebbe when I got off — was shameful. A teenage girl near me was crying and I wasn’t far from that as well. I didn’t eat my omelette that they served, I saved it for Shabbat food (that I didn’t need in the end, but the feeling was very bad).
  5. The flight attendants, who, again, may or may not have had violence directed towards them that I would never condone for a second — had no idea how to act under a stressful situation. Crying, shouting back even if shouted at, rudeness — unacceptable. You represent El Al, the aircraft, and the passengers are clients who have spent hundreds of dollars. Act in a way that is professional.
  6. To interview two clearly anti-religious people without waiting to interview other people who were in Athens is irresponsible on behalf of the media.
  7. As I said above: there is no reason for us to be waiting now until 11:30 at night. Getting a plane here earlier should have been first priority. Not to mention that most of us have been in the same clothes for three days, have no working phones, or travel insurance.


I will eventually get home and I will proudly tell my kids that I chose to go to Athens and miss them, rather than break Shabbat. I will relay that same message to my Ramah Israel students in the future.

I will be writing my own blog post about the actual Shabbat when I have the time.

In the meantime, I’m still in line.

Shavua tov from Athens…

About the Author
Betsalel Steinhart is a Licensed Tour Guide, and the Director of the Ramah Israel Institute for Ramah Israel. He lives in Bet Shemesh with his wife and five children.
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