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A Kohein’s Unexpected Travel Adventure

Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

For 16 days in November — due to runway repair work at Ben-Gurion Airport — all flights would be flying over Holon Cemetery, a problem for Kohanim. Would I cancel my trip?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

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For most people, flying to and from Israel entails contacting a travel agent, checking times and prices, and booking a flight. For Kohanim, however, the situation is very different. We need to know which airlines and routes routinely carry meisim, and make sure to avoid them. Flying over cemeteries is another potential problem, but fortunately it rarely arises.

With a family wedding coming up, my wife and I booked a round-trip flight to Newark for shortly after Succos. But our plans were unexpectedly derailed when my son forwarded me a news item on Erev Succos: for 16 days in November — due to runway repair work at Ben-Gurion Airport — all flights would be flying over Holon Cemetery, a problem for Kohanim.

Skeptical at first, I contacted several rabbanim on top of these matters. Each confirmed it was a serious problem. To be on the safe side, I e-mailed my travel agent, though I was confident the situation would be straightened out long before it became germane to me. But when Succos went by, the issue was by no means resolved; the flight route remained unchanged and the best El Al would do was offer to refund my ticket (not my wife’s — she’s not a Kohein).

Should I cancel my trip? My wife could attend the wedding alone, but what about our vacation plans? Postpone the trip by two months and miss the wedding? We’d lose the price of my wife’s ticket. My travel agent suggested sealing myself in a plastic bag after takeoff until the plane passed the cemetery. The rabbanim I consulted agreed with me that this heter didn’t work; better to avoid flying altogether.

The other choice was flying out of Israel from Haifa, which has daily flights to Cyprus, or from Eilat, which has flights to other European cities. The Haifa option involved no fewer than four flights to reach the US, including an overnight stopover in Cyprus and two one-hour layovers in Athens and Frankfurt, which seemed far too risky.

With my ticket refunded, my ever-resourceful son spent a few hours online and came up with a few decent connections, leaving from Haifa and flying discount airlines my travel agent had never even heard of. The flights were one-way and nonrefundable, but the connections were doable. The trip would take close to 30 hours, but…

I took a deep breath, handed over my locus of control (i.e., credit card), and booked the flights... (excerpted)

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