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 Over the past few months, I have traveled several times from Israel to the United States in order to attend happy occasions in my family. Because my children live in various areas of the United States, I always ask to transfer from the New York airports to fly to Chicago or Phoenix or Houston or St. Louis in order to fulfill my familial obligations. I am very averse to having close connections between airplanes since I need assistance in the airport. I always give myself three or even four hours of leeway between the time that I land and my next flight. This invariably allows me to sit at the gate for a few hours before my plane departs and to observe the passing scene. Airports are fascinating places because as you sit there, the whole world walks by. Every color, creed, race, size, and attitude of human beings passes before your very eyes.


Most of the time, the people passing by are so intent on their own connections or to get to the baggage claim as soon as possible that nobody notices anybody in the great rush of humanity, especially in the large airports such as Chicago and New York. But as I sit on the side and watch, I have the time and the ability to look at the people and to, at least in my mind, form some sort of connection between them and me, even though obviously we are not related biologically, socially or religiously. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating to imagine what type of lives these people have, where they are going and what they feel their purpose in life really is. Maybe this is too philosophical a way to observe people in an airport, but it certainly helps me pass the time while I am waiting for my plane.
The Torah teaches us that one of the wonders of God's world is that we are all constructed, so to speak, from the same diecast, and yet each one of those is so different from the other. It is not only the difference in appearance that is striking, but the appearance in attitude and worldview even though all of us have pretty much the same experience in life. All of us experience good times and unfortunately not such good times. All of us have accomplishments and all of us have disappointments. Yet the human reaction to life itself is unique to every individual and no two people are alike. When I view the passing scene at the airport, my imagination runs away with me thinking about what the lives of those passing by me really constitute.
The question always arises, "Why did the Lord make so many of us?" And I think part of the answer is that all human beings contribute directly or mostly indirectly to shaping the world that we live in and influencing all other human beings, even those we never see or know about. It is the collective race of humans that binds us together whether we wish it to do so or not. The old joke was that the man said that it takes all kinds of people to make this world and I'm glad that I'm not one of them. But the truth of the matter is that each of us is one of them and we are bound mysteriously one to another, influencing and creating events and situations that eventually will touch the lives of those who pass by unnoticed. I think that's one of the great lessons of airports, because it allows us to view this diversity of people and to give free reign to our imagination as to why there are so many of them and why they are so different.
In today's world of international travel, one can see probably the greatest variety of human beings that has ever been on display in one place at one time simply by visiting an airport. Recently in Chicago, while waiting for my flight to New York, in the space of an hour, I saw every possible color, race and ethnic group that this world contains walk by in front of me. Not one of them took notice of me and being an old rabbi who oftentimes is bombarded by unwanted attention and questions, I enjoy that experience. Perhaps nobody likes being ignored all the time but occasionally it certainly has its benefit.
Invariably, and this has happened to me almost without exception, there always is someone at the airport who recognizes me and comes over to talk and reminisce. At my age and with my eyesight, I hardly ever recognize the person and what he or she is talking about, but I notice that the people sitting around me are impressed by the fact that someone stopped to say hello and to talk to me.
On my last trip when I was being wheeled through the airport, a man actually pursued me to shake my hands and to talk to me about the last time we had met 30 or 40 years ago and how he listened to my lectures, et cetera, et cetera. The man who was pushing me in the wheelchair was duly impressed and said to me, "You must be one famous person." I said: "Well, I'm not really so famous. It just so happened that this man knew me." He said, "No, that's not true because I push people all day long and no one ever stops to talk to them and it must be that you are special because someone did come over to talk to you." Being duly flattered, I gave him a generous tip when he deposited me at the outside curb to wait for the car that was picking me up. But it’s true that you can be in a sea of humanity, literally with thousands of people and no one notices anyone else. No one stops to speak to anyone else, especially now since most are addicted to their mobile phones and are always somehow looking down at the phone and not up to people… and certainly not up to heaven.
In any event, airports are interesting places. And the miracle of aviation, which has revolutionized human life and travel, shrunken our world and made the most far distant places on the globe accessible to everyone, is truly one of the great inventions of all time. But people remain people and if you want to observe, I think that airports are a good place to do so. So next time you travel, maybe you should come to the gate a little early and watch the parade passing by you. You may find it to be interesting and fascinating and it will give your imagination a chance to exercise itself in a manner we are not usually accustomed. But please make sure that you arrive at the gate in time and do not miss your plane.
Shabbat Shalom.
Berel Wein

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