By Moe Mernick for Matzav.com
Uber was at surge pricing, but it didn’t matter. It had been a busy Thursday at my midtown office and I simply had to rush to the airport to catch my flight. My family was in Toronto; I had been working in New York City since Monday, and I really wanted to be with them for Shabbos.
Instead of an Uber X, I scored an Uber Black. Awesome. While trying to get to the Holland Tunnel, I witnessed road wage between the driver of a bus, an SUV, and a cop who had to come break it off before it turned physical. (Note: Trying to get out of Manhattan at rush hour is never ever a good idea!)
Thankfully, traffic cleared once we got to New Jersey and it was clear sailing to Newark Liberty International Airport, and I had just about an hour to go before my flight was scheduled to depart to Toronto. I had already checked in online and I only had carry-on luggage, so I whisked straight through to security and arrived shortly thereafter at my gate. Phew, I made it.
Apparently my rushing wasn’t validated, because my flight to Toronto was slightly delayed. Shouldn’t be that bad, I thought to myself. The weather seemed okay both in New York and Toronto, so it was probably just a traffic build-up at the terminal.
I opened my laptop, signed into the Wi-Fi and began to do some work for the office. But then, when tens of passengers flooded the waiting area, I knew something was wrong. Apparently, they had been on the 4:00 p.m. flight to Toronto (mine was scheduled for 7:25 p.m.), and they had been sitting on the runway for four hours. And after all that, they got turned back to the gate!
Voices were raised, cell phones rang off the hook, and hundreds of agitated passengers began to question their weekend plans.
What to do first, I wondered? Davening Maariv was clearly the best choice. There were other religious Jews waiting at the gate, so we tried to get a minyan. Someone was on his way back to yeshiva, another was from Lakewood was going to visit family, and a businessman was in and out for the day. In addition, several counselors and campers from Chai Lifeline (a nonprofit organization geared toward children with developmental disabilities and terminal illnesses) were there, waiting to get home after their summer experience at Camp Simcha.
We were nine people and we almost gave up. But just then, a passenger asked one of the guys: “Which yeshiva did you go to?” Yes, we got “bageled,” and it happened at the most opportune time. We had a minyan!
Then, unsure as to flight plans (“sorry, sir, everything is booked until Saturday”), I started to think of alternatives. Do I try to fly standby on Friday’s flights? Should I start making plans to stay in New York for Shabbos? My younger brother (who lives in Far Rockaway) generously offered me his car so that I could drive back to Toronto for the weekend. Should I take him up on that?
Just then, magic began to unfold.
The Chai Lifeline volunteers told us that they might have a plan. They had wheelchair-bound campers that simply couldn’t stay at hotels and fly stand-by, so they were sure that Chai Lifeline would organize something for them, even if that meant chartering a bus to get them back to Toronto.
At the last second? Doubtful. But if anyone can do it, Chai Lifeline can.
One of the volunteers then told us that his cousin from Passaic feels terrible about our predicament. She offered to have us all stay at her house overnight, if we’d like, but at the very least, she would be preparing dinner and sending it to the airport. Wow.
While waiting to find out if we would get that chartered bus (and if there would be room for all of us), our dinner arrived. And if that wasn’t enough, another Chai Lifeline volunteer heard about the stranded campers and showed up at the airport with bags of snacks that she had just picked up from Wal Mart. (Did I mention that this was at about 11:30 on Thursday night?!)
Finally, the icing on the cake. Two guys — one from Lakewood and another from Monsey — volunteered to drive the group back to Toronto; they simply wanted the campers to be back with their families for Shabbos and Tisha B’Av. They borrowed a wheelchair-accessible van from Bikur Cholim (in Lakewood) to drive everyone home to Toronto. (Yes, these guys were now going to be spending Shabbos and Tisha B’Av in Toronto, just to make sure the campers would be back home!)
How many seats were there in the van? Exactly enough! There were ten of us altogether: two Camp Simcha campers, three Camp Simcha counselors; two drivers, and three other stranded passengers (myself included). At about 1:30 on Friday morning, we all boarded the wheelchair-accessible transport and began our trip to Toronto, as planned. It was surreal.
It was the day before Tisha B’Av, which naturally meant that I was gearing into a more pensive and somber mode: mourning the loss of both Temples, every national tragedy throughout Jewish history, and personal struggles — all a result of our historic sin’as chinam, baseless hatred.
Yet, as I my thoughts wandered throughout my nine-hour road trip to Toronto, with wheelchair-bound youth being beyond taken care of, and random strangers (including myself) being offered a free trip back to Toronto and fed by people we didn’t know, I couldn’t help but smile. I couldn’t help but recognize how proud Hashem must have been of our ahavas chinam (baseless love), and I couldn’t help but realize that we are well on our way to rebuilding the third Bais HaMikdash.
Combining both of his passions, education and entrepreneurship, Moe Mernick runs business development for an early-stage start-up, mentors budding entrepreneurs at a technology accelerator, and has held numerous communal positions, including Regional Director for The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation (Hamburg, Germany), Senior Advisor at Counterpoint (Sydney, Australia) and City Director for NCSY (Vancouver, Canada).