| For the Record |

TWA to the Rescue

"I want you to know that I connect the two stories"


Title: TWA to the Rescue
Location: New York
Document: New York Times
Time: 1962


Prestigious precedent

Delaying a weekend levayah until Sunday had been done before. When the Chofetz Chaim passed away on a Friday in Elul 1933, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski advised delaying the levayah until Sunday, to enable the maximum number of participants to reach Radin.

When Rav Aharon Kotler was niftar on a short November Thursday in 1962, gedolei Yisrael decided that the levayah should be held on Sunday morning on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to maximize kavod hameis. A minyan of Rav Aharon’s close talmidim hoped to accompany his aron to Eretz Yisrael, where he was to be buried on Har Hamenuchos next to his father-in-law, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, and they asked those making the arrangements to try to obtain complimentary tickets for the flight.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky instructed that under no circumstances should El Al — which still flew on Shabbos then — transport Rav Aharon to Israel. The only remaining option was TWA. The yeshivah’s lay leaders appealed to the airline, highlighting the valuable publicity of flying the great Torah leader to his final resting place.

Amos Bunim, Rabbi Moshe Sherer, Zev Wolfson, and other activists were stymied by regulations requiring State Department approval for such plans. They began contacting senators to write letters attesting to Rav Aharon’s eminence. Finally on Sunday morning, Bunim reached J. Wilson Reed, TWA’s federal liaison, who calmly assured him that although the offices were closed for the weekend, the tickets would be provided and the fare refunded. In addition, he made an airport hangar available for hespedim and arranged that talmidim be given the rare privilege of loading the aron onto the plane.

While TWA was helpful, the State Department still hadn’t signed off on the refund a week after the levayah. Given the yeshivah’s impecunious financial situation, a worried Amos Bunim called Reed’s office day after day for updates. On Tuesday, Reed told him everything would be resolved the next day, and Bunim should follow up on Thursday. Bunim asked why he couldn’t call on Wednesday.

“My son is having a serious cancer operation tomorrow, so I will not be available,” Reed replied.

Bunim, with newfound respect for BMG's guardian angel, said, “I want you to know that we will be praying for your son in this difficult moment, and I hope he’ll have a speedy recovery.”

Bunim called on Thursday and Reed immediately answered.

“Rabbi, I want to tell you something”, he told a hopeful Bunim. “All of the doctors involved in the operation yesterday were shocked. Something reversed itself in this cancer through the surgery that they’ve never seen before. I want you to know that I connect the two stories — my trying to help you pay last respects to this great rabbi, and the recovery of my son.”

It doesn’t end there. Although TWA didn’t receive State Department approval, Reed made it whole, as promised. That very same day BMG received a check signed by TWA president Charles C. Tillinghast Jr. for $5,000, more than covering the flight expenses. To express the yeshivah’s appreciation, the BMG board published an ad in the New York Times thanking TWA for its courtesy and generosity.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 859)

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