“I find it difficult to visit Germany. I’m uncomfortable with the sound of the language, the police uniforms, the large industrial buildings… When I was first invited to participate as a golfer in this summer’s Jewish Olympics, the Maccabiah Games in Berlin, I declined. Then I learned that the Opening Ceremonies for the Games would be held in the stadium used by Hitler to stage the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and that thousands of Jewish athletes, coaches, family members and spectators would sing Israel’s national anthem Hatikvah, in memory of the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust. When I heard this, I knew I had to go to Berlin.”
I remembered this story from my friend Jeremy Freedman, who was selected to be Canada’s Flagbearer at the Berlin Maccabiah, when on June 28 I was the first passenger to check in on El Al’s maiden flight from Boston to Israel.
Before the flight there was a flag-raising ceremony at Logan Airport. Genuine enthusiasm was in the air. To the sounds of Hatikvah and The Star-Spangled Banner, the Israeli flag was raised proudly alongside the flags of the other countries that fly directly from Boston. At the ceremony were leaders of the Boston Jewish community and the local Israeli community, State dignitaries, Israeli diplomats, senior El Al management and few frequent flyers like myself.
El Al‘s top executives were there to make sure the first flight took off uneventfully. A feeling of celebration was in the air, as Boston was added to El Al’s three other North American destinations. Was this “just business”? It is always easy to be cynical, but I felt there was more than business. It was sort of modern Zionism. Blazing a new trail in the air.
We live in a challenging time for Israel. Despite the Jewish New Year blessing, our enemies have not been uprooted. Not every day and not in every place the Israeli flag is raised and the national carrier opens its counters at a new airport (at the end of the terminal, off course, surrounded by armed police and increased security). Opening a direct route from Boston is a significant contribution to commercial relations, investments, academic research, and connecting Israelis and local Jews to Israel.
While waiting for the flight I told some El Al people that on my previous flight, I sat next to a friendly businessman who bemoaned the comfort level of the El Al seats compared with those of competing airlines. I said that beyond the obvious considerations of price, availability, comfort etc., choosing to fly El Al has a Zionist consideration. I still remember last summer, when several airlines stopped flying to Israel because of rocket fire from Gaza, reminding us once again that at the moment of truth, we can rely only on ourselves.
On the Sabbath evening prior to the flight I was invited to the Harvard Chabad House. After the meal, Rabbi Zarchi asked me to speak on the weekly Torah portion. I shared some thoughts about a sense of proportion. “In the Torah portion”, I suggested, “The Israelites complain of unquenched thirst and Moses strikes the rock to produce water. Imagine that the Israelites had remembered how, just a short time earlier, they had been slaves in Egypt, where they were beaten, humiliated, their firstborn murdered… Remembering that terrible period would have put their thirst into proportion and perhaps reduced some of their complaints.”
A sense of proportion could be useful today also. With a worrying increase in boycotts against Israel, the fact that less than a century ago the Jewish people were almost wiped out by the scourge in Berlin, and last summer that was anything but a relaxing one, we should be thankful for the Maccabiah Games in Berlin, the aviation pioneering from Boston, and hopefully - for a quiet, relaxing summer in Israel.