S

ome people might think that concert travel is sophisticated and fun, but when I remember our trip to Ottawa, Canada, 29 years ago, I still cringe. I received the invite while I was packing for a trip to Eretz Yisrael, and told the organizers to get us a flight leaving New York on the Sunday morning of the show and returning that same night. The Ottawa liaison called again, informing me that there were no such flights available, and would we be willing to come for Shabbos? I told him we usually don’t do that, but that I’d make an exception.

I returned from Israel a week later and found the airline tickets for Ottawa (these were the days when there was an actual physical ticket). The departure time, however, was 4:00 p.m. on Friday. I called them back, but they explained that those reservations had to had to be made at least 30 days in advance and there were only two flights on that Friday — one in the early morning and one at 4:00 and they weren’t sure which one to choose. Since I wasn’t reachable, they chose the later flight.

I checked the calendar and saw that candle lighting in Ottawa was 6:43 p.m. and shkiah was 7:01. The plane was scheduled to land at 5:18. We could make it.

That Friday, four of us packed up, took along some challah and wine just in case, and hoped for the best. We boarded the plane when the stewardess assured us that the flight was on time. The doors were shut and the plane taxied away from the gate, but within two minutes, the pilot got on the loudspeaker and informed us that there was air traffic in JFK, we were number 29 in line, and we’d be taking off at 5:30. I stood up and told the stewardess that we had to get off the plane, as our Sabbath was approaching and we could not fly on the Sabbath.

She went to speak to the pilot, and suddenly the pilot left the cockpit and came over. He explained that going back to the gate would cost the airline thousands of dollars, and losing the spot in line would delay the flight another two hours. Then he said, within earshot of everyone, that he guaranteed the plane would take off at exactly 5:29 and touch down in Ottawa at 6:20. He would personally take us through customs, we would be in a taxi no later than 6:30, and it was only a 20-minute drive to our hotel. So I answered with a condition of my own: “If the plane takes off a minute later, we’ll have to go back to the gate, regardless of the consequences.” The pilot agreed to the terms.

At 6:20 the plane touched down in Ottawa. The pilot got on the loudspeaker and said, “We have good news and bad news for our Jewish passengers. The good news is that we’re in Ottawa and it’s 41 minutes before sunset.” The entire plane burst into applause. “The bad news is that we can’t find an open gate.” As the minutes ticked by, the stewardesses took our passports and our carry-ons, after we explained how we were not allowed to carry on Shabbos or do any other such type of work. They assured us that our luggage and passports would be taken directly to our hotel.

The plane door was opened at 6:59. We were escorted to the baggage claim area and met by our driver. But now we were faced with a dilemma: Sit in the airport for 24 hours or head out on foot to our destination, a mere 13 miles away. We would be walking parallel to the highway and there were houses all along the route, so we realized there wouldn’t be a problem with techum Shabbos. We took a vote. It was unanimous that we would walk. And for the next five and a half hours, that’s what we did.

And so, at 12:35 a.m., we arrived at the hotel, starving and soaked from rain. Out of deference to Shabbos, our escort had walked together with us, but then turned to us and said he had some bad news. We actually started laughing. What could be worse? He informed us that our Shabbos food was in the van at the airport. That’s when we stopped laughing.

We davened Maariv and collapsed into our beds, but made it to shul on time the next morning, unwashed and starving. Before Mussaf, the rabbi gave his Shabbos derashah about how important the day of Shabbos is, and used us four as an example. As he spoke, all I could think about was food. When davening was over, we were invited to his house for the seudah. Cholent never tasted so good.

The concert the next day was truly amazing. We made our return flight on time, and as we sat down in our seats headed back to New York, we asked each other what we learned from this experience. One thing was unanimous: Never take a chance when it comes to Shabbos. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 730)