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'I'm going to Pittsburgh' 

11/04/2018 12:12:37 PM

Nov4

Rabbi Adam Scheier

Acts of kindness and solidarity are the best way to honor the Tree of Life victims

 

“I’m going to Pittsburgh.”

 

I had a tight connection — 45 minutes in Dulles. Around five minutes after boarding the plane in Montreal, while still at the gate, the pilot announced a delay: The auxiliary engine that powers the plane at the gate had malfunctioned. It would take 30 minutes for the mechanic to arrive, and we would have to temporarily leave the aircraft. As I walked off the plane, I asked the flight attendant whether there was any chance I’d make my connection. “No chance,” she said. The first officer, Landon, overheard the conversation. “Where are you going?” he asked.

“I’m going to Pittsburgh.”

 

I saw his eyes go up to my kippah. I continued, “I’m a rabbi here in Montreal. I’m going, on behalf of my community, to attend victims’ funerals.”

 

“Wow,” he said. “My condolences. Good luck getting there.”

 

We waited at the gate area. I walked up to the desk agent to explore my options. She was on the phone, laughing. She turned to the agent next to her. “You’re not going to believe this!” she said. “It’s the mechanic’s first day on the job! Oh, boy!” I laughed too, albeit a bit nervously.

 

We explored my options. I could fly to Dulles, stay overnight and continue to Pittsburgh on a late-morning flight. But that wouldn’t leave me much time, as I had a late-afternoon return to Montreal. Or I could drive there. The drive from Dulles to Pittsburgh is four hours. If we landed at 11 p.m., I could be there by 3:30 a.m. or so. I was expected at a 6:45 a.m. minyan. And that’s what I resolved to do.

 

We got back on the plane. They still had some paperwork to complete, so we waited a bit longer. The first officer walked out of the cockpit. I saw that he asked the flight attendant a question, and she pointed to me. He walked over. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure you can get there. I’ve put in a request that they hold the other flight. No guarantees. But the request is in.”

 

I was floored. I said, “I am so grateful. But please don’t delay just because of me. I’ll find a way to get there.”

 

He smiled and walked away. I saw how important this was to him. Perhaps he’s a military man, who understands the significance of honoring the dead.

After almost two hours of delay, the flight took off. At a certain point, the flight attendant came over to me and said, “Dulles is holding the flight for you. They’ve also moved our incoming gate. We’re going to park closer to your connection.”

 

As I walked off the plane, I shared my appreciation with the first officer. He tipped his cap and gave me a look of solidarity.

A Dulles airport employee was waiting for me at the gate. She walked me the short distance to my next flight. I heard them close the door behind me as I entered the plane. I strapped in, and the plane pulled away from the gate.

 

As I reflect on this kindness, I understand. Everyone is trying to do something, to make a gesture, to contribute in some way to healing the wound from this terrible crime. For some, it’s a financial donation; for others, it’s a solidarity visit; and for this pilot, it was helping a passenger make a connection so that he could honor the victims.

 

This experience left me with a great sense of mission during my stay in Pittsburgh. By all logic, I shouldn’t have made it that day, at least not on time. I felt as if my time there was a gift, and that I had to make the most of it.

 

In this spirit, I offered condolences to the families, heard of the incredible legacies of the deceased and prayed with so many in Pittsburgh for the violence to end and for acts of kindness to spread.

Saturday, November 17, 2018 9 Kislev 5779