I recently flew to the United States from Israel. For various undoubtedly good and sundry reasons that I was unaware of – though many of my fellow passengers who “know” everything about everything had various and conflicting stories as to the cause – El Al was flying a Portuguese airplane and crew on this flight. The airplane was not the one I was familiar with and my seat though being in business class, no longer a luxury for me at my age, felt less than the usual comfort level that I was accustomed to.
It was undoubtedly me and my mood that made for my feelings of discontent rather than the dimensions of the seat itself, of which I am certain, were no different than the business class seat on El Al to which I was accustomed. Nevertheless, beginning a twelve-hour flight sitting in a seat that one feels vaguely uncomfortable about is not a harbinger of joy about the forthcoming flight itself.
But I convinced myself that I should stop kvetching about nonsensical matters such as my seat on a Portuguese airline’s airplane and just get on with it. As I finally adjusted myself, my hat, my jacket and my carry-on to my situation on the plane, a young man, a former student of mine in my yeshiva in Monsey – he is now the head of a very successful “American” yeshiva in Jerusalem, appeared before my eyes. We exchanged warm greetings and he informed me that somehow he had a seat in the first class section of the airplane due to his many frequent flyer miles and he insisted that I exchange seats with him.
I at first demurred – it is not my nature to sit in seats that I have not paid for one way or another – but he was persistent. He pointed out to me that he was younger, thinner and more agile than I am currently and so I agreed and ended up in a much more comfortable seat in the first class section of the airplane.
There are a number of important life lessons that I have learned from this seemingly innocuous and mundane incident. Firstly, first class is distinctly better than business class. Whether it is worth the extra fare is debatable, according to an individual’s wallet and travel tastes, but when offered a free upgrade to first class one should take advantage of it. I imagine that there is a first class seating section in the immortal world as well. We should all try to earn that upgrade.
I visited with my benefactor while he was languishing in my old business class seat and he assured that he was perfectly comfortable with his seat and situation. Secondly, I was reminded how careful and positive one should be with one’s students, especially in the formative high school years. I don’t know how many of his family and peers would have predicted when he was in ninth grade that someday he would head a yeshiva in Jerusalem, or that he would help his old teacher with a gesture of generosity that surpasses any material gift. Because of him, I spent a long and otherwise very boring flight in pleasant reminiscences and with the feeling of accomplishment that often is so rarely present in our lives.
A third lesson that I learned is that one has to feel that one really belongs in first class in order to truly enjoy being seated in that section of the airplane. The stewardess had to get special permission from the purser in order to serve me the first class meal instead of the business class meal ordered for me. She did so in a loud enough voice so that the other passengers in the first class section all realized that I was an interloper, sitting where I really did not belong. I was comforted with the realization that some of my companions in the first class section of the airplane were there only because of upgrades and not because they actually paid the outrageous fare for the seat.
I have never in my life neither been a social climber nor attempted to project myself unto a stage where I was not invited and did not belong. So my joy at being seated in first class was certainly tempered by my realization of how I had gotten to sit there. Anyway, I will be happy when El Al stops flying Portuguese airplanes on its routes.