Ultra-Orthodox accused of violence on two planes from New York due to fears they would arrive after sundown Friday
Ultra-Orthodox passengers onboard a pair of Israel-bound El Al planes that took off from New York on Thursday caused an uproar, with some reportedly becoming violent, over fears they would be mid-flight after the start of the Jewish Shabbat.
One of the planes, which took off late from JFK, ultimately diverted to Athens. The second plane was also considering diverting, to Rome, but in the end continued its flight to Ben Gurion Airport as scheduled, because of a medical condition affecting one passenger.
Both of the flights had been delayed by hours on Thursday due to stormy weather in the Midwest and East Coast that led to the delay or cancellation of hundreds of flights.
As a result, in the course of the flights, a number of passengers grew angry they would not arrive in Israel until after the start of Shabbat, despite being assured by the crew they would arrive before sundown Friday when Shabbat begins, according to a passenger on one of the planes.
Religious passengers later pushed back against the claims of violence, accusing the airline staff of causing a delay on one of the flights, falsely telling them they were heading back to the gate before taking off, and lying that the plane would make it to Israel on time.
In accordance with the laws of Judaism, observant Jews do not use electronics or light fires on Shabbat and also refrain from traveling in cars or airplanes. Exceptions are made for medical or security situations in which a life is threatened.
A passenger aboard one the flight uploaded a short video showing the commotion and a message to Facebook slamming the behavior of the passengers.
“After 24 hours to reach Israel, I am broken, broken mainly because of the lack of respect of people who are observant, who observe tradition and Shabbat, who took this issue a step too far,” wrote Roni Meital.
Meital praised the patience and the attempts to calm the situation by the El Al crew, but described the aggressiveness and unruliness of some the passengers even before the flight took off amid scares they would not reach Israel in time.
Meital said that “after six hours of flying, I suddenly heard screaming and saw a flight attendant crying after she was hit, pushed, amid threats they would break open the door to the cockpit.”