My Dad, El Al And Thomas Cook

BS”D

Perhaps most of you know by now, that Thomas Cook, the oldest tour operator in the world, shut its doors for good on Monday. There were an estimated 600,000 holidaymakers who were affected by this terrible news worldwide. But more importantly 22,000 staff members were also at risk of losing their jobs.

Many staff members found out this news in mid-flight while servicing customers on the company’s airlines. I saw many stories where passengers saw the reality set in to those staff members when they found out they would be losing their main source of income. But those passengers also saw that the crew conducted themselves with dignity and before the flight was over, some passengers began collecting for the crew who had been so brave and serviced them so well while they knew how painful it must have been for all Thomas Cook staff.

And when the plane landed, at least on one flight I saw news reports on, that crew was presented with two bags stuffed with money to help ease the pain, all courtesy of the very passengers who they were servicing. That was in contrast to at least one report that stated those same Thomas Cook employees would not be paid for their time on board that final Thomas Cook flight.

Even the UK government was asked to step in, but at the end it seems, the government did not want to throw away taxpayers money at what was deemed to be a bad investment.

I understand this was a business decision that had to be made because the company was losing money and not operating correctly, but I know there are other instances that the UK government stepped in to save a company, one recent example being British Steel-

Insolvency courtesy of Wikipedia

On 22 May 2019, British Steel was placed into an insolvency process, putting 5,000 jobs in the UK at risk and endangering 20,000 in the supply chain. The move followed a breakdown in rescue talks between the government and the company’s owner, Greybull. The Government’s Official Receiver took control of the company as part of the insolvency process. Accountancy firm EY took on the role of Special Manager and is attempting to find a buyer for the business.[15] Theresa May announced to parliament that HM Treasury had “agreed an indemnity for the official receiver to enable British Steel to continue to operate in the immediate future”. The Guardian also reported in the same article that “The number of people employed in UK steel manufacturing has fallen by 300,000 since 1971”, from 310,000 to around 10,000 in 2019.[16]

In August 2019, Oyak, a Turkish army pension fund announced that it planned to take over British Steel by the end of 2019.[17]

So my question is if British Steel could be saved, why was it necessary to shut down Thomas Cook? Even if the company was not being managed properly, there could have been a new strategy put into place over time to save the company, and then those employees who were affected badly by this insolvency would have had fair warning to look for alternative employment.

The UK government had no obligation to keep Thomas Cook Airlines operating and there was nothing further that could be done. But we are talking about an airline which is part of a company that not only was an institution in itself, but resulted in major shockwaves throughout the tourism industry when it closed its doors. It is hard to believe the UK Government could not have found a solution.

In contrast, El Al was been established by the Israeli Government, and even though it was privatized many years ago, El Al relies heavily on the Government for services in areas such as Security, being the prime example. Therefore, to even think the Israeli Government would let El Al go bankrupt is unimaginable. So to, I feel it fair to continue to question why Thomas Cook Group was allowed to fail.

I know how it feels to lose a job due to economic circumstances, it hurts badly in the pocketbook and ego.

A Personal Story About My Dad-

I Will Be Forever Grateful To El Al and its Staff

Regarding Israel, in Parshat Eikev, the sixth Aliyah, Devarim 11:12; it states – Hashem  always has his eyes on Eretz Yisrael – from the beginning to the end of the year.

These days though, there are many enemies of the Jews who are trying to convince the world that Israel is a terrible place, and has no right to exist. And yet Israel continues to grow stronger as each day passes by.

I want to share with all of you my personal story that involves my father. When we made Aliyah, in 1996, my father was on a dialysis machine  in Minneapolis. I was getting reports of his progress and he seemed to be doing OK.

But after a little more than a year of living here, I suddenly received a call from one of my brothers that Dad’s condition had deteriorated and I must fly home as quickly as possible.

The best way to fly would obviously be direct from Ben Gurion to Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport. It was toward the end of March, 1998, and flights out of Tel Aviv were very full. So my best and only hope to arrive at my Dad’s bedside in time was to get a direct flight on El Al. But that direct flight would only take me to one of the major US cities El Al was serving at that time. And then I would have another flight to catch.

“I’m Sorry All Of Our Flights Are Full Now – BUT……………………….

When I attempted to phone El Al central reservations here in Israel,  the lines were very busy. Pesach was coming soon and obviously the flights had been booked many weeks previously.

I continued to hold on the line for one of the reps to answer, and finally I was able to speak to someone. I began the conversation by explaining that my Dad was critically ill and I needed to fly back to be with my Mom who wanted me to be with her and the family at that time.

I just wanted the El Al Agent to show some sympathy toward me and my family and help me find a way to get to see my Dad as soon as possible.

When the El Al Agent began talking, little did I know that I would be listening to a conversation which would stay with me for the rest of my life.

She began by saying – “I’m Sorry, All Of Our Flights Are Full Now – And I thought –Oh, No – This Can’t Be True. Then after a short pause, she continued-

“But, for situations like this El Al is very understanding. For this purpose, we always leave a few extra seats for emergency situations such as yours” I then asked her if she needed me to supply any documentation to verify what I was saying was true. She responded by saying in our experience, when you tell us your father or mother is critically ill, we know you are telling us the truth. So with that, she arranged for me to take one of the next flights out so I could be with Dad, Mom and my family before Shabbat.

I was at my father’s bedside by that Thursday afternoon. He was unable to communicate with me but I know he knew I was there. My Mom was grateful I had arrived and with my family we sat by Dad’s bed while I was getting reports of his situation.

It was clear El Al was responsible for allowing me to arrive on time. No other airline would offer me a flight early enough to arrive before Shabbat. I have a good friend Danny, who I met in South Africa and keep in touch with today. He arranged for someone from the St. Louis Park community where I first experienced Shabbat, to bring me meals when I arrived. I also made contact with Rabbi Feller and the Chabad Community in St. Paul who helped with meals and my other needs.

I wanted to stay by my father’s bedside throughout the night, but my family convinced me to go to my parents house and catch up on some sleep, which I did. I was up early that Friday morning and arrived at my Dad’s bedside to say Tehillim to pray for his recovery. I managed to call my family in Israel and report on Dad’s condition.

As the afternoon arrived, my Dad’s condition deteriorated and by 3pm I could tell somethingdifferent was happening, which brought in the nurses. At approximately 3:30pm, I suddenly saw my father’s face with a look of intense pain, and then suddenly he relaxed. The nurses were summoned, and I was told my father had passed away.

The Chevra Kaddisha was called to the hospital to remove Dad’s body. I was told his body was being transported to the  local Jewish funeral home, and it would be kept there until Sunday, which is the earliest they could organize the funeral.

But I was told that the Shomer (the person appointed to watch the body until it is buried) would not be available over Shabbat and someone else would have to be found to take his place. Without hesitation, I immediately volunteered to be my Dad’s Shomer. As the first born son, I felt it was my duty, and so therefore, I returned to my parents’ home to get all the things I needed to stay over at the Funeral Home for Shabbat.

It was an experience I will never forget, but now is not the time to go into those details. Rather, once Shabbat was over, I was given the opportunity to go back to my parents home to rest up for the funeral, as someone else would be my father’s Shomer while I caught up on sleep. I arrived early at the Funeral Home that Sunday morning. The funeral was set for 2pm, as far as I remember and I sat in front of my Dad’s coffin saying Tehillim until the time for the funeral arrived.

I saw many cousins and relatives who I had not seen for many years. The Rabbi got up to say a few words to begin the Eulogy, and then my family wanted me to get up and speak to remember Dad. I remember telling a few stories that took place when I was very young and told about how my parents would come to Johannesburg to participate in many of the Simchas we would celebrate as a family.

But one of the most important things I will remember that I told my family and friends during my Eulogy to my father, was the big thank you that I gave El Al Airlines for being here with them to mourn together my father’s passing. That meant a great deal to me and I wanted my Mom, brothers, immediate family as well as relatives and friends to know how much it touched my heart to be there with Dad during his final hours.

So we proceeded via motorcade through the streets of Minneapolis carrying my father’s body to his final resting place at the Minneapolis Jewish Cemetary located around 71st and France Avenue, very close to where Best Buy has its corporate headquarters. Many of Dad’s immediate family are buried there, and now Dad was joining them.

It was an overcast day, and when the hearse arrived, my Dad’s coffin was brought to the burial site for graveside services. For the first time in my life I would be saying Kaddish for a parent, and then as the shovels of dirt started covering my Dad’s coffin, the heavens opened up with such rain that everyone quickly went back to their cars. But I just stood there because I wanted to wait until Dad’s coffin was properly covered, but Rabbi Feller was also with me and he knew that it would be a problem to keep my family waiting, as well as the fact that the road leading to the gravesite had room for only one lane, so he encouraged me to go back and join my family.  He said he would see to it that my father’s coffin was properly covered.

Now you know why I included the story of Rabbi Feller when he lost his father in an earlier Blog because of what he did for me.

We held Shiva at my parents house for all seven days. Chabad and the local community helped with minyans and brought over food to eat and anything else we needed. Of course, we also had a lot of family support and saw many people I knew who came to pay a Shiva call. I proudly was the Shaliach Sibor for davening and someone came to read Torah.

So the lesson I learned from all of this is that you may have many friends, and also have a successful job with a very successful company. But at the end of the day, its your family that you can count on the most. There is nothing like family.

Here in Israel, our family has grown and hopefully will continue to grow as we support each other no matter what challenges we face. We will face them together and be with each other during good times and bad times.

And in the case of El Al, I want to repeat that I will forever be grateful for their efforts to allow me to fly home just in time to see my father before he passed away. In that respect, I consider El Al as part of my family, just like all my fellow Jews.

And a special message to all Thomas Cook employees or anyone affected by this terrible news. It is less than one week before the Jewish High Holidays and for our non-Jewish friends only a few more months before the traditional holiday season. May you all find strength during this difficult time and be blessed for a year of happiness and joy.

And if any of you are Jewish and thinking about making Aliya, Israel is in need of many people in its service industry. It seems you all have the necessary qualifications and should seriously consider Israel as an option for your  job search.

Chativa v Chasima Tova

May We All Be Inscribed For a Year of Peace and Brachas

About the Author
Born and raised in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. Married to a South African, we lived in Johannesburg from 1979 to 1996. Made Aliyah with our seven children on Parshat Lech Lecha. BSB Accounting Degree from the University of Minnesota. Investment Portfolio Manager and Analyst. Served in the US Army Reserves Semi Retired spending quality time with my wife, children, grandchildren and attend Kollel while analyzing current events as they relate to Torah and Mitzvahs.
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