Two years ago, a unique WhatsApp group, “Chul Mehudar,” was established in response to the growing need of people in the Ultra-Orthodox sector (but not only) who wished to receive vital information and provide mutual assistance in everything related to tourism.
The group is considered to be the main bridge connecting between the needs of the religious sector and the leading professionals in the tourism sector in Israel and abroad who are attentive to the problems and suggestions that the group raises.
The 250 members of the group (the maximum allowed by Whatsapp) are leading members in the tourist industry, including: travel agents, tour guides, hoteliers, bloggers and more.
Dudi Rosenstein one of the group founding members, along with his partner Simchi told us about the group and its purpose: “We are colleagues who help each other work, earn a living and help in everything related to tourism abroad. Today, when there are more and more Ultra-Orthodox who are traveling around the world, there is a need for cooperation and assistance from professionals in the tourist industry as well as providing tips and assistance to the religious travelers and those who are keeping Kosher while they travel abroad.”
“Because of the Kashrut needs and the need to observe the Shabbat, the ultra-Orthodox entrepreneur is sensitive to the nuances and needs that others are unaware of. We started the group with a number of friends and it became a professional group with people who are involved in a variety of fields in the tourist world and they do so with faith and help each other.”
The group members not only help each other but also the general public who seek to use their knowledge and contacts. One of the more well known cases is an incident which came to be known as “The El Al flight to Athens”. The flight from New York to Israel on Thursday night was delayed because of a snow storm and as such it was forced to make a landing in Athens in order not to desecrate the Shabbat. Many of El Al customers are Ultra-Orthdox and “Chul Mehudar” members decided to reach out and have kosher meals ready for them for Friday night and Saturday in Athens. And so, they had contacted one of their members in Athens, Rabbi Mendel Hendel of Chabad and asked him to organize 100 kosher meals for the passengers because some guests are coming over.
In another case in which the flight of a Ukrainian airline from Poland to Israel was delayed due to heavy fog, “Chul Mehudar” asked a group member in Kiev to make sure that the connecting flight which was scheduled to leave to Israel would be delayed so the passengers won’t miss the flight.
“Chul Mehudar” members estimate that until today the group has managed to help thousands of travelers providing them with tips on kosher restaurants and hotels that are friendly to the members of the Ultra- Orthodox sector and helped people in real distress while traveling abroad. In one case a religious couple went on a vacation to Canza, a ski resort in Northern Italy. While there, the wife was injured in a car accident. They were distressed and in need of a place where they could stay and rest until they will be able continue with their journey. The members of “Chul Mehudar” contacted them with the owner of a Kosher hotel in the area.
A week ago on Wednesday, a special meeting was held in El Al headquarters with members of the group along with representatives from El Al.
The meeting that took place at the company’s headquarters, was opened by El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin who opened the meeting saying that he was very happy for the opportunity to present the company’s activities in general, and as well as the special service that is given to the religious passenger and said he would like to hear out the participants in the meeting, each one with the issue he wanted to suggest or ask about.
The CEO detailed the expansion of the company’s fleet and indicated that on Thursday a Dreamliner 787 will begin use, El Al’s ninth, and that by 2019, 14 Dreamliners will be active in the fleet.
Also the subject of the continuous contact with the Ultra-Orthodox sector received attention including the crisis of the famous “Shabbat flight” incident. “After a long investigation into the matter and understanding of what had transpired, we have learned many lessons that we implement in real-time decision making and we hope that an incident such as this one, won’t repeat itself,” concluded Uskishin.
Next speaker was Amir Rogovski Vice president of customer service who detailed the many steps that the company is taking these days in the field of general service and the emphasis that is given to the needs of the Ultra-Orthodox passenger of El Al.
“El Al is the only airline that is strict about kashrut,” Rogovski said “The Kashrut for Passover cost us a lot of money”.
The “questions” part of the meeting included many questions, some were piercing, but the discourse was conducted in good spirit and the discussion that developed was very fruitful and fascinating.
Mr. Shlomi Zaphrani, Israel branch sales manager, reviewed the updates in the pricing structure as well as in the “Matmid” El Al’s frequent flyer program. This was a great opportunity to get the behind the scenes about many changes that are taking place currently in this field. This was followed by an exciting conversation which all participants took a part of.
The meeting included Mr. Shlomi Am Shalom, Head of the Chief Executive Officer’s Office who was happy for the opportunity to host the influential and dominant group. He reviewed the development of the company and the process the company is undergoing and noted that he would be happy to have regular meetings in the future which will benefit everyone.
Among the participants was Rabbi Shmulik Kravitzky, a Lubavitcher, and owner of the Sky2000 travel agency in New York, who responded to the invitation of the group’s managers in coordination with the El Al management in New York and represented the leading agents in North America in the meeting.
“During the meeting we were invited to see El Al’s control center, where we were presented with the method of preparing a flight in terms of choosing the most efficient route, and training pilots on choosing the best route by the weather conditions,” Kravitzky said. “We went to one of the garages to see the renovations that are taking place on one of the 737s which the CEO spoke about. We saw that the inside of the passenger compartment had been stripped, dismantled, and removed. On the floor we saw new chairs that would be mounted on the plane after the completion of the renovation.”
When asked whether it was worthwhile to fly for only 24 hours for the meeting, Kravitzky said, “Certainly! I was happy to meet with the rest of the group and with the heads of El Al an airline that takes into account the needs of all its passengers including the religious ones. It’s impossible to find such an airline who is that considerate of its religious customers as El Al is.”
The meeting was coordinated by Yoram Elgrabli and Sarah Sabia.
25 representatives of 250 members from Israel and abroad participated in the meeting which was organized by Dudi and Simchi, “Chul Mehudar” managers.
Radio host and aviator Efraim Kamisar conducted the dialogue.