We decided a few months ago to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to support our children Sholom and Peninah as they participate in the Third Annual Team HASC (Hebrew Academy for Special Children) half marathon run on Sunday, February 16, 2014. We arrived a day before the Marathon Shabbaton began, beating a projected snow storm that would deposit 12-16 inches of snow on Baltimore. This storm would also cause massive transportation problems for the entire Mid-Atlantic region as air carriers were forced to cancel thousands of flights into and out of Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The majority of the Team HASC runners were located in the greater New York City area. Their flights were also cancelled on Thursday. Oh no! What were they going to do?!?!
Team HASC officials jumped into action! A flurry of phone calls and a plane was chartered to take the 150 Team HASC members stranded in New York to Florida on Friday morning, but at about 10:30 PM on Thursday, the Friday charter was cancelled! Now, it really seemed that no options were available. Once again, a flurry of frantic telephone calls began. Someone reached an official in the corporate offices of JetBlue Airlines. JetBlue agreed to send an empty plane from Boston to New York, pick up the 109 Team HASC members, and bring them to Florida, but now it was a 12:30 PM Friday afternoon flight that would arrive in Miami at 3:30 PM! (Very close to the start of Shabbos!) Two busses waited at the airport to bring the Team HASC members to the hotel in Deerfield Beach. The busses arrived at the hotel at 4:30 PM and 4:45 PM, a few hours before the start of Shabbos. Amazing! The JetBlue plane then flew back to Boston empty!
The pilot went on the airplane’s loud speaker and said that this was the most meaningful flight he ever piloted. He also said that he has worked for JetBlue for over 20 years, and he never heard of them flying an empty plane anywhere! They never do that! The entire crew was amazed at Team HASC’s decorum, spirit, and sense of gratitude. What did the JetBlue charter cost? JetBlue accepted the refunded tickets from the 109 Team HASC passengers. A donor covered the remainder of the costs. The rest of the stranded Team HASC members found other ways to get to Florida before Shabbos.
The story does not end there. Yes, everyone in attendance experienced a fantastic and very emotional Shabbos! The spirit, the davening, the meals, the Divrei Torah, and the testimonials from HASC families were extremely inspiring.
Now it was time for the Sunday half marathon. It began at 6:00 AM; therefore, Team HASC had to leave the hotel via 4 busses at 4:30 AM. By 10:00 AM, all 150 Team HASC members had completed the 13.1 mile half marathon and were basking in the joy of completing such a task. At least three strangers at the marathon complemented Team HASC for their unappalled behavior and specifically for the way they loved and cared for the HASC campers.
One of the Team HASC leaders noticed that, along with other race sponsors, there was a tent from JetBlue nearby. The entire Team HASC, including the children in wheel chairs and special strollers, stood in front of the JetBlue tent to express their Hakaras Hatov and their deep gratitude to JetBlue, and began a spirited chant -“Jet-Blue, Jet-Blue, Jet-Blue.” The chants were heard loud and clear.
One of the JetBlue employees texted a friend in the corporate headquarters to tell them what was going on at their tent, and that person forwarded the email entitled “Jewish Charter” to the JetBlue Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The CEO of JetBlue then texted back to Team HASC – “glad to have been of assistance.”
Cameras and Smartphones began filming this unusual scene, and we were later told that it was put on the corporate Intranet and would be written up in the employee newsletter. What a wonderful Kiddush Hashem!
But, the real winners of the Team HASC half marathon were the children of Camp HASC, a most amazing place. It has been called “Heaven on Earth” for the love, compassion, dedication, and care given to these special children by the devoted young men and women of the HASC community.
A few years ago, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, the Mashgiach of Beis Medrash Gavoah and his wife visited Camp HASC and addressed the staff. He told them that he was envious of their schar (reward) for assisting these precious neshamos. When a staff member asked the Rav for a bracha, he replied, “I should be asking YOU for a bracha. There is nothing greater than what you are doing.”
We sometimes hear that this generation of young people is called “The ME Generation.” When it comes to organizations like HASC, “The ME Generation” is really “ME K’amchah Yisroel, Goi Echad Ba’aretz.” May they continue their holy efforts on behalf of all special children and return next year in even larger numbers for the fourth annual Team HASC half marathon!!