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An Uplifting Experience

Shimmy Blum

Since 1948, El Al Israel Airlines has attained enormous popularity among passengers of all stripes, not the least of whom is its loyal flock of chareidi passengers — a clientele that can be very discerning, to put it mildly. On a recent weekday morning, El Al officials took Mishpacha on this behind-the-scenes, exclusive, first-of-a-kind tour as the airline prepared a craft for takeoff to Eretz Yisrael.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It is 9:30 on a typical midweek morning in Terminal 4 at New York’s JFK Airport. Passengers of all ages and nationalities are streaming in, looking forward to reaching their destination in some other part of the world. One inconspicuous row of check-in counters is welcoming passengers preparing to board Flight 004 to Tel Aviv, scheduled to depart at noon. People with black hats, long peyos, or kippot srugot mingle with secular Jews and non-Jews. The common denominator among them is that they all look forward to their welcome at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Slowly, the delegation for our behind-the-scenes tour of El Al operations begins to assemble. From Brooklyn’s Five Star Travel, proprietors Kalman and Rachel Eisdorfer and agent Dini Fisch meet up with Mishpacha’s representatives, CEO Avi Lazar, myself, and photographer Shimon Gifter. Within no time, the El Al contingent arrives: Michael Rosin, district sales manager for the northeastern US; veteran salesman Shimon Grossman; and airline sales representative Hallie Weiss. They warmly greet us.

However, we soon discover that even our upper-echelon escorts can’t arrange every aspect of the VIP treatment we’ve eagerly anticipated: they too must navigate the airline’s famously tight security arrangements, which for three consecutive years have earned El Al the title as the world’s most secure airline in Global Traveler magazine’s survey of its 25,000 readers.

Unlike with other airlines, passengers approaching an El Al check-in counter are subjected to an interrogation before they can even get in line. Yet, the El Al employees examining passports and querying passengers about practically every detail of their trip haven’t lost focus of their surroundings. They quickly notice the camera around photographer Shimon Gifter’s neck, and proceed to verify our special clearance to report on (some of) the goings on.

Gifter, a grandson of the Telshe Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Mordechai Gifter, ztz”l, isn’t surprised. He recalls, “I used to come here with my grandfather, and El Al made sure that I only photographed him, and not any employees or other passengers. And that was even before 9/11.”


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