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He Swallowed My Papers to Save Me

Dov Bin-Nun and Rachel Ginsberg

While hundreds of hostages from the “Black September” hijacked planes in the Jordanian desert have recounted their stories of hope and salvation in the four decades since 1970, Yosef and Tzippy, two children traveling alone, owe their safety to two bochurim who hovered over them like hawks — today both of them are prominent American rabbanim. How does a ten-year-old, all alone with parents at the other end of the world, face down terrorists threatening to blow up the plane and everyone in it?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

For King Hussein of Jordan, September 1970 — Black September — meant the relief of squashing the Palestinian revolt that threatened the stability of his Hashemite monarchy. For the PLO and George Habash’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, it meant the shame of a failed revolution, thousands of Palestinian deaths, and the expulsion of the PLO and other militants to Lebanon. And for dozens of innocent hijacked hostages, it meant sitting for weeks in the hot Jordanian desert waiting for salvation. It was Sunday, September 6 — 5 Elul — 1970, when terrorists from the PFLP went on a hijacking spree, running through the isles of four international aircraft brandishing guns and grenades and taking over the planes: TWA flight 741 from Frankfurt to New York originating in Tel Aviv, and Swissair flight 100 from Zurich to New York were diverted to Zarka, a hot, sandy, out-of-use military airfield in the Jordanian desert; Pan Am flight 93 from Amsterdam was diverted to Beirut and then to Cairo; El Al officials thwarted an attempted hijacking on their flight from Amsterdam; and three days later, the PFLP seized a British Overseas Airways Corporation flight in Bahrain and brought it down in Zarka as well. The PFLP, under the leadership of George Habash, claimed responsibility for the multiple hijackings.
Ten weeks before, Rabbi and Mrs. Yitzchak Trachtman of Chicagohad escorted their ten-year-old son, Yosef, to the gate, putting him onto a TWA flight to Israel. It wasn’t easy sending a young kid halfway around the world alone, but Yosef earned it. Rabbi Trachtman, a yeshivah rebbi, wanted to encourage his son to learn, and paid him for every chapter of Tanach or Rambam he completed. With matching funds from his father (“Well, I think it was a little more than that,” Yosef Trachtman admits today), Yosef earned a summer trip to Israel. “Maybe we’ll get hijacked,” Yosef, an imaginative youngster, said to his parents as he was about to board the plane. In 1970, it seemed like every other week, some militant would hijack a plane to Cuba — a 727 was hijacked from Chicago to Cuba just the week before. Yosef never dreamed it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Two months later, as the two giant airplanes sat alone on that giant stretch of Jordanian sand known as Dawson Field and renamed Revolution Airport by the PFLP — really no more than parched mud flats hardened under the desert sun — the terrorists began collecting passports and interrogating passengers, especially those they identified as Jews. Among the passengers on the TWA plane were the venerated rosh yeshivah Rav Yitzchak Hutner of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin and his wife zichronam l’vrachah, and yblch”t his only daughter Rebbetzin Bruria David of the BJJ seminary and her husband, Rav Yonasan David shlita, rosh yeshivah of Pachad Yitzchak in Jerusalem. Two of Rav Hutner’s young students, Yaakov Drillman and Meir Fund, were also on the flight. So were the Sephardic gedolim Chacham Rav Yosef Harari-Raful and his brother Rav Avraham Harari-Raful ofBrooklyn.
And a few rows back were two young kids traveling all alone, ten-year-old Yosef Trachtman and eight-year-old Tzipporah Moran, facing down a bunch of terrorists — the nightmare of every parent who sends their children on a plane by themselves. As soon as passengers realized the plane was being hijacked, Rav Hutner’s two talmidim moved from their own seats to sit next to the two unaccompanied children.
Eight-year-old Tzipporah was carrying documents from both the US and Israel. Yaakov Drillman was a young bochur at the time, but he knew that signs of Israeli citizenship would put the girl in danger, and so he took her Israeli documents, ripped them into tiny shreds, and swallowed them.
It wasn’t such a far-fetched thought. For among the documents that the hijackers discovered were precious handwritten manuscripts of seforim that Rav Yitzchak Hutner had painstakingly compiled over years. The terrorists confiscated the manuscripts, claiming they contained secret plans for espionage. Years of efforts to retrieve those manuscripts proved fruitless — they were probably incinerated when the planes were blown up. The terrorists also discovered in his possession documents relating to the purchase of two apartments in north Jerusalem, one for him and one for his daughter. The terrorists were enraged by his plans to buy apartments in territory that had been “stolen” from them. “It’s ours! It’s ours!” they shouted repeatedly.

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