By Larry Gordon –
It was still dark outside when I opened my eyes to take a quick glance at the electronic radar or GPS screen on the wall. It is somewhere in between Monday night in New York and Tuesday morning in Israel. The screen flashes at me just as I open my eyes. It says that Jerusalem is 1,932 miles away. Oh I caught myself thinking, we are almost there. To my limited aviation oriented mind, anything that is closer to new Yorl than California is close enough to be considered almost there.
It’s been dark since we took off from JFK at about 6PM New York time. I lifted up the plastic window shade to spy an ever so slight and graceful shade of early morning pink making an appearance on the distant horizon. A further study of the electronic map tells me that we are 37,000 feet over Hamburg, Germany, racing our way at 650 miles per hour towards Eretz Yisrael.
Now that I’m up it looks to me like we are approaching the proper time for the morning prayers. I look around the El Al cabin to see if I can discern any other unofficial confirmation that the time for davening has arrived but everyone seems to be sound asleep, that is as is not so unusual everyone except me.
The scene and my surveying the increasingly pinkish horizon reminds me of the late Lubavitcher Chosid, Rav Mendel Futerfas who endured a brutal Siberian exile for the sin of teaching Torah during the Communist era of not so long ago. The way I heard it, Rav Mendel was grabbed by Soviet agents from his home in the middle of the night, taken from his family and taken blindfolded by train to the far reaches of the Soviet gulag.
When Rav Mendel was finally liberated, I guess it was the 1970’s, and moved to Brooklyn he was asked about that experience, about being abducted, blindfolded and then sent off to a frozen exile far from home. He was asked what he thought when the train stopped and the blindfold finally removed. What he said in response to the inquiriy was quite remarkable. He said, “when they took off the blindfold finally I looked around outside and saw that it looked like it was time for Mincha, so I davened mincha.”
The pink off in the horizon does not deceive. I think it was about 5:30am down there in Hamburg or maybe it was Hanover when I decided it was clearly time to reach for the trusty talis and tefilin. There was a Sephardic gentleman on board the flight that wanted to organize a minyan but he was not having any success. The idea of putting together a quorum of ten men in the narrow aisles of a speeding jet seems to have peaked. Numerous Rabbonim have issued decisions that urge people to pray privately on a plane so as not to disturb other passengers.
He wanted to be able to recite kaddish but after a quick but unsuccessful effort abandoned the idea. We were landing early enough in the morning for him to assemble ten men around the luggage carousel and recite kaddish while we waited for the suitcases to spin around trying to catch their excited and distracted owners attention and that is what he did.
Even without the ambitious obtrusiveness of a mile high minyan there is something very special and even intimate about davening at 35,000 feet. More in this weeks 5TJT