For many, the first visit to Israel is a memorable one, filled with all the new sights, sounds, and smells accompanied with an encounter with an exotic Middle Eastern environment. Coming from the United States or elsewhere, the trip to Israel ordinarily comprises a transatlantic flight which many choose to take on Israel’s flag carrying airline, El Al. Since the its founding in 1948, the airline has been the gateway for millions to Israel and all the country has to offer. Understanding the airline’s significance for connecting the world to Israel, Bearcats for Israel was fortunate to host a group of diverse El Al crew members at Binghamton University this past week who shared Israel’s beauty through their work for what is considered by many to be the world’s most secure airline.
The five flight attendants who visited campus came as part of the El Al Ambassadors program, an initiative in which El Al personnel choose to spend their time between flights sharing their stories at venues throughout the world in order to give a personal face to their country. The evening, organized as panel, began with an introduction of each of the visiting crew members including their family background. The diversity of these individuals and the various ways their families came to live in Israel echoed the equally diverse nature of the country’s society and its history of absorbing refugees.
With families hailing from South America, Europe, and the Arab Middle East as well as those with deep roots in Israel well before the founding of the state, the assorted countries of origin stress the importance of Israel as place of refuge for Jews faced with persecution on a global scale. From members of the Persian community who found safety in Israel following the events of the 1979 Iranian Revolution to Polish refugees fleeing the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, the stories shared of the attendants’ family history stress Israel’s significance as a safe haven, welcoming Jews fleeing danger no matter the circumstances.
Faced with an incessant wave of terror since September targeting Israeli civilians, Israelis have shown resounding strength unwilling to be deterred. Asked by students about life under these current circumstances, the El Al staff gave over a powerful picture of what the terror has meant for the average Israeli. Though the attendants agreed that there is an overall heightened sense of alertness, their routines and those of residents throughout the country have remained consistent throughout the ordeal. The El Al employees emphasized the importance of the Israeli spirit in this matter which refuses to be fearful and empower those who choose violence as their tool for change. Despite all that is going on, the panelists could not imagine living anywhere else, commenting on the greater sense of security felt in Israel than during their time abroad.
As the party responsible for bringing the vast majority of people to Israel, the experiences shared by the visiting El Al attendants reflect the country’s untold story behind the headlines. Incidents ranging from tearful flights reuniting Jewish immigrants with their new home to the pilot who turned around a taxiing airplane so that a child with cancer who had forgotten her passport could take a much-needed vacation highlight the true face of Israel often ignored by the media, a state of caring and compassionate people who, through the help of El Al, have returned to their ancestral homeland after a two-thousand-year exile.
Contributed by Binghamton University CAMERA fellow, Joshua Seed.