When I read about the recent El Al fiasco in Athens, I thought about an unforgettable trip I once had going to Israel via Greece. It was 1983, I had just released MBD’s “Just One Shabbos,” and I received an order from a company in Israel for 3,000 records. (Those were the round vinyl discs that were around even before cassettes.) Up until then, producers would sell the rights to their albums and they would be manufactured in Eretz Yisrael. In this case, we sold the album per piece, agreeing on a price of $9,000 for the 3000 albums, which was a nice sum of money in those days.
But how to ship the 3,000 records to Eretz Yisrael? In those days, the cost of shipping alone was about $1,500. Then I had an idea. There was a cheap flight to Israel once a week with a stop in Athens on a very short-lived airline called Arista, and it was only $499 per ticket. The charter was run by an acquaintance of mine, Ephraim Klein. I called him up and we made a deal: If I’d buy two tickets, he would take all my boxes for free and store them at the airport for a week. I was excited and immediately called my mother a”h. “Ma, we’re going to Israel for a week!”
Talk about a no-frills airline. There were only four stewardesses on the full flight of over 300 people, and three hours before we landed in Athens, there was zero food or drinks on board.
When the plane landed in Athens, the pilot made an announcement that for security reasons we would have to remain on the plane. Then, to further save money, he shut off the air conditioning. It was at least 95 degrees in Greece and the only air that came in was from the opened airplane door. I stood up and approached a stewardess. I said that it was extremely hot on the plane and we were in dire need of something to drink. She said, “I don’t know what to tell you. This is my first flight.”
I spotted the open door, and decided to head down the steps of the plane, but not before the pilot frantically came running after me, shouting, “You can’t do this! You can’t do this!”
“And why not?” I asked. “It’s a hundred degrees on the plane and we haven’t had anything to eat or drink in three hours.”
The pilot relented and put the air conditioning back on. I said, “What about the drinks?” He said, “You’ll have your drinks in ten minutes.” I returned to my seat to a standing ovation from the entire plane (while my mother was laughing her head off and shepping nachas).
When we landed in Israel a few hours later, I called the company who was going to pay us for the records. The person, whose name I’ll leave out for halachic reasons, heard I’d be there for a week and said, “Perfect! On your way back home, I’ll will have the money for you.” He lived in Tel Aviv, which wasn’t far from the airport.
So after a great vacation with my mom, we headed back to the airport, with a stop in Tel Aviv. My mother waited patiently in the taxi as I went in to get my envelope. The customer was extremely gracious when he opened the door, offering me tea and cookies, but I was in a rush to get to the airport so I just asked him for the envelope with the payment. I opened it — and there were 80 hundred-dollar bills. I looked up at him and said that we had agreed to $9,000. Then he told me how times were tough, but I stood my ground. “We agreed on $9,000, and that’s the price.” He said, “Look, if I were you I would take the $8,000.” I walked down to the taxi empty-handed and dejected, and when I told my mother what happened, she said, “You did the right thing. Gam zu letovah.” I called my partner Suki, who was already living in Jerusalem, and told him what had happened.
The flight back was uneventful (they even had soda), but as I walked into our apartment on the West Side, I still wondered if I did the right thing. Because right then, there were 3,000 records still being stored in Lod airport and I didn’t have a penny to show for it.
I go over to my answering machine and take my messages, and there was an urgent message from Suki. He said, “You’re not going to believe this but somebody called me here in Eretz Yisrael and he said he’s opening a distribution company called Gal Paz, and he just gave me $12,000 for the records.
And so, I learned two things: One, that when things don’t go exactly according to our plan, it’s still gam zu letovah; and two, mothers are always right.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 741)
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