When Avi Morgenstern got engaged, it was a source of great simcha for the entire Morgenstern family. He was the first of the generation of cousins to get married, and everyone wanted to be at the wedding.
That posed a serious problem for the New Milford branch of the Morgenstern clan. Steve and Maggy Morgenstern had four children. All of them were very close with Avi and all of them wanted to be there to sing and dance Avi and his kallah, Abby, down the aisle.
The issue was proximity. The wedding was in Yerushalayim, and that meant six airline tickets from Newark to Tel Aviv. That was a serious piece of pocket change for Maggy, Steve, and their brood.
Normally, Maggy would have dipped into the family’s large cache of frequent flier miles, but the Morgensterns had used them all up in Puerto Rico for Yeshiva Break that past winter. Who knew Avi was going to fall in love so quickly and have such a short engagement? Apparently true love worked fast in the Holy Land.
With no other options, Maggy sat down at her desktop and went to work. She perused Priceline. She combed Kayak. She explored Expedia. Finally, on an odyssey through Orbitz she found what she was looking for.
“Steve, I’ve gone through every possible flight option for Avi’s wedding,” she called out from the kitchen. Maggy always planned the family trips, because if Steve were left in charge they would never leave New Jersey.
“O.K., what have you got?” Steve bellowed from his perch in front of the Giants game.
“You’re not going to like it.”
“I’ve got it narrowed down to three airlines.”
“El Al, United, and British Airways?”
“No, Air Berlin, Turkish Air, and Aeroflot.”
“What country is Aeroflot?”
Steve came out of the den. “How much are we talking?”
Maggy turned the computer so that Steve could see the screen for the flights she had found.
“Well, that’s not too bad. And how much is El Al?”
Maggy typed a few more letters, punched Enter, and turned the screen toward Steve again.
“O.K., that’s bad. So then which airline should we fly?”
“They all have stopovers,” Maggie said. “So it’s a matter of where we want to spend a few hours, Moscow, Ankara, or Dusseldorf.”
Steve smiled. “You know, I’ve always wanted to see Dusseldorf.”
“You and me both, Honey.” Maggy entered all the information that was necessary, and ten minutes later the Morgensterns had six coach seats on Air Berlin for June 21st, from New York City to Tel Aviv, with a stopover in Dusseldorf. It was a done deal.
The day of the big trip arrived, and at one-thirty in the afternoon the Morgensterns set out on their trek. They had four suitcases, two car seats, six carryons, and a cooler stuffed with enough snacks for a small army (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars, chocolate chip cookies, bagels, and of course, no liquids). True, they had requested kosher meals on Air Berlin for both legs of the trip, but Maggy wasn’t taking any chances. Besides, there was the stopover in Germany to contend with.
The trip to the airport went smoothly. The Morgensterns whisked through security without incident. The T.S.A. security lines were short, and they boarded without forgetting anything at the gate (it sounds easy enough, but boarding a plane with four children in tow is something you have to do at least once to appreciate).
Sophie started with the window seat, but agreed to relinquish it to Danielle somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Michael sat in between his parents with Steve’s iPad on his lap, deep into the game Temple Run, and Benny never looked up from his iPod.
The flight went extremely smoothly. Maggy was a little weirded out by the flight announcements in German, but she settled down after a while, and even chuckled when the flight attendant asked her if she wanted “shparkling vasser.”
The in-flight entertainment on the airplane was fantastic, with many movies and television shows to choose from. Other than the food and beverage service and a brief nap by each of the Morgensterns, they were all glued to their screens for most of the flight. Steve caught up on most of the fifth season of Mad Men, and Maggy developed an addiction for Downton Abbey. Before they knew it, they were landing in Dusseldorf.
It was 7:15 am in Germany when they disembarked in the airport. The Morgensterns sat on the orange plastic chairs in the arrivals lounge and stared off with the numb feeling of having missed an entire night’s sleep. They had an hour and a half until they needed to board their connecting flight to Israel. They were tired and washed out. Oddly enough, Michael, the five-year-old, hadn’t slept a wink on the plane, but seemed the most awake. Even Benny didn’t have the energy to turn on his iPod.
Benny turned to his father. “We need to chill.”
“We need to explore,” Sophie said.
Maggy looked at her entire crew. “We need to daven.”
Steve knew his wife was right. Their first priority was to find a quiet place to daven shacharit. But he truly was not looking forward to this. He hated putting on his tefillin in airports. When he was younger he had backpacked across Europe with friends, but they had always gotten up at the break of dawn in the youth hostels they slept in so that they could pray in peace. In college he used to daven mincha in a phone booth if he was on the road (the joke was to dial G-O-D) to have a modicum of privacy. Now here he was in Germany, a country not historically famous for its religious tolerance, and he had to daven for all to see. But he hadn’t missed putting on tefillin every day in many years, and he certainly wasn’t going to miss now. And Benny had been putting on his tefillin for almost two years without fail. There were many lessons to be taught to his family at this moment.
“Your mom’s right,” he said to his four kids. “Let’s move out.”
The Morgensterns picked up their carryons and began to walk. Four gates over they found an empty departure area with no flight pending on the electronic departure/arrival board. Except for the cleaning crew it was pretty much abandoned.
“This will do fine.”
Steve put on his talit and tefillin, Benny put on his tefillin as well, and Maggy, Sophie, and Danielle pulled out siddurim. Michael said the few prayers he knew by heart that he said in school with his teachers. They stood by the window looking out over the flight crew that was working on a recently arrived Lufthansa 737 in the distance. They spent about twenty minutes on their prayers, trying as best they could to ignore the stares of the occasional travelers as they walked by across the lounge.
As Steve and Benny took off their tefillin, Steve looked proudly at his family.
“You know, this whole scene makes me think of a Rashi in parshat Vayishlach.”
Maggy looked over at her husband with a world weary look. She was used to his habit of waxing philosophically at the strangest of moments.
“Really, Steve? Do tell.”
“Well, when Yakov is about to meet Eisav after many years of separation, he sends him a messenger with the message: Im lavan garti va-echar ad ata. I have sojourned with Lavan and have lingered until now. Rashi offers this explanation: Im lavan harasha garti vetaryag mitzvot shamarti. I have lived with the evil Lavan all these years, but I still observed the 613 commandments. It is a play on the word ”garti” that the letters are the same as “taryag,” or 613.”
“Good one, Dad,”
“Gee, thanks, Danielle, but don’t thank me. Thank Rashi.”
“Good one, Rashi, Danielle opined.”
“Uh, sure,” Steve continued. “But I think Yakov’s point to Eisav relates to us here today. We’re far from home, in a foreign place, but despite the hardship and inconvenience, we’re going to keep the mitzvot. Like davening in a small German airport, under the scrutiny of lots of strangers. That’s who we are, and that’s what’s important to us.”
Maggy smiled. “Good one, honey.”
“It was a nice dvar Torah, but now that we’re done davening, I have just one thing on my mind.”
“And what’s that?”
“Nice thought. I know we’re in Dusseldorf, but there must be a Starbucks here somewhere.”**
And the Morgensterns continued their odyssey across the airport.