Turkish Air and the Ma Nishtana

turkish airlines

Ma Nishtana halaila hazeh….? On all other nights we eat chometz or matza, but on this night we eat only matza….”

Those of us who live in Israel but have children and grandchildren living in chutz la’aretz, or vice versa, will certainly identify with my predicament. My daughter, who lives in New Jersey, was expecting right before Pesach, with the probability of a bris on erev Yom Tov or on Yom Tov itself. With Pesach coming on Sunday night, it meant that, should she have a boy, it would be impossible or at least very difficult for me to attend the bris. I admit to a lot of disappointment; up to that time, I had not missed a single bris of any of my (at the time, nine) grandsons, two of which involved my spending Shabbos in Flatbush, where my son lives with his family. But the timing of this baby’s arrival, two weeks before Pesach, complicated matters, particularly since I was scheduled to give a Shabbos Hagadol drasha in our neighborhood in Yerushalayim.

Then again, it might be a girl. But after three girls, we were all hoping she would have her first son. Like all good parents, we try not to call too often when our children are expecting so as not to be nudnikim. But by now we had decided that, should there be a boy, I would resign myself to watching the bris on Skype, unless it was Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Two weeks to Pesach…a week-and-a-half…one week. Still no baby. Five days before Pesach we got the exciting phone call: a boy! No shalom zachorFriday night was the Seder! If all went well, the bris would take place on Tuesday of Chol Hamoed.

I then realized that, although impractical, I could still make it to a Tuesday morning bris. My daughter and baby would be released from the hospital before Pesach. They decided to spend Pesach at her in-laws, in Potomac, Maryland. Now for the excitement: Could I arrange a ticket on last minute notice from Yerushalayim to the Washington area? And how much would a last-minute ticket from Israel to Washington during Pesach week cost?

After a few quick phone calls and an online search, we discovered several viable connections. The least expensive was a flight with Turkish Air via Istanbul, landing in the U.S. on Monday night, the night before the bris, and returning the next night. I would be back home with my immediate family for the end of Yom Tov. Although the trip involved a seven-hour layover in Istanbul, it allowed me to daven both Shacharis and Mincha in the airport instead of onboard a flight. I could daven Maariv after arriving at my mechutan’s house in Potomac.

What about food? Like many of us, I have a minhag going back several generations not to eat out of the house on Pesach. Well, my wonderful wife packed plenty of Pesach food that I could eat both on the plane and in the airport, so I was well stocked.

I arrived at Ben Gurion and found my flight, all very uneventfully. Of course, there were few frum people flying on Chol Hamoed Pesach, so the flight to Istanbul on Turkish Air was an interesting mix of returning Turks, Arabs, and secular Israelis. I saw only one other group of obviously-frum passengers – an Israeli family of five from Bnei Brak traveling to Buenos Aires via Istanbul. As only hashgacha pratis can plan, we were seated together. I’ll let you figure out the statistical chance of me, traveling alone and insisting on an aisle seat, being placed next to a group of five frum people.

Why is this important? For some reasonI have no idea why (although certainly Hashem knows) I was served a kosher meal. I had not ordered a kosher meal, since I do not eat out of the house on Pesach, and I had plenty of food with me. Without touching the meal that was placed surprisingly in front of me, I noticed that the meal was kosher but clearly chometz. I mentioned this quickly to the Israeli family next to me. With their very moderate command of English, they did not realize the problem and were preparing to open and eat their meals. They were shocked that Turkish Air did not realize that Jews who keep kosher do not eat chometz on Pesach, and that they were served chometz meals. Clearly, hashgacha had arranged the seating so that I would prevent them from eating chometz on Pesach!

Imagine the difficulty we all had trying to explain to the very polite Turkish Air crew why the six Jews who ordered kosher meals would not even open them!

Now that I knew that someone had booked kosher meals for me, I feigned sleep on the flight from Istanbul to Washington while the meals were served. It was easier than explaining the situation to a new crew.

B”H, I arrived uneventfully and was able to participate in the bris. The mohel my children had arranged was Rabbi Moshe Rappaport, an old chaver of mine from yeshiva, and also the mohel of three of my own sons.

At Dulles airport, on the return, I saw one other fellow wearing a yarmulke waiting to board my flight to Istanbul. I went over to him and mentioned to him that the kosher meal served on the plane might be chometz. “My travel agent promised me that it would be kosher lepesach,” he insisted.

“I don’t know what he promised you,” I responded, “but I’ll tell you what happened yesterday on my trip in.” I then proceeded to relate my experience.

Again, I feigned sleep rather than be confronted with a meal that was chometz. Later in the flight, I bumped into my frum co-traveler and asked him whether the meal had been chometz or Pesachdik. “The cold, outside part of the meal was chometz, but the heated part was Pesachdik,” was his reply.

From Istanbul to Israel, I was seated next to a young Jewish couple from a small town in southern Illinois, traveling to Israel for vacation. The snack served indeed had a reliable kosher-for-Pesach certification. It consisted of a small piece of matza, packaged as a cracker, with the hechsher of the Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim, some Pesachdik jam to spread on the matza, with the same hechsher, and some lemonade as a beverage, with a well-respected hechsher and the ingredients listed as “fresh squeezed lemon and pure cane sugar only.”

Thus, we see that, although the Haggada has but a single answer to the Ma Nishtana’s first question, Turkish Airlines provides three: ““only chometz,” “chometz and matza,” and “only matza.”

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