|Rabbi Shalom and Yael Pelman and their children.|
Rabbi Shalom and Yael Pelman’s trip from Guatemala to New York for a family wedding turned into a story that will most likely be retold for quite some time.
It also became a parental teaching moment when the couple wound up walking with their 12-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter for several hours on Shabbat to get to their destination in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Pelmans are co-directors of Chabad Lubavitch Guatemala in Guatemala City.
The parents and six of their eight children had boarded a flight from Guatemala on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 7:45 in the evening, with plans to arrive in New York, via Mexico, early Friday morning. But their connection in Mexico was delayed, then rerouted to Washington, D.C.
The hours ticked closer to the start of Shabbat and the beginning of a 25-hour time period when Jews refrain from traveling by vehicle, carrying items and doing work, among other things.
Pelman said he went to speak with crew members about their situation, but the family was not permitted to deplane from the international flight in Washington.
So they went on to New York, having called ahead to inform their hosts of the new time frame. While still in the plane, they moved everything from their pockets to their hand luggage—including their phones and even the rabbi’s wallet—which the crew helped move to the terminal. A family friend made arrangements for their younger children and luggage to be driven to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn by a non-Jewish resident of Crown Heights who met them upon arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The rabbi wrote Google map directions on his hand so that he, his wife, and their two oldest children could successfully navigate their way from the airport to Crown Heights by foot.
‘An Experience to Grow From’
Despite the chilly temperature, Pelman decided to walk wearing just his white shirt for safety reasons, so they would be easy to spot by vehicles and people along the way.
They started their walk at 7 p.m., passing through residential areas and walking at some points alongside the highway.
“We spoke all the way,” he said of their approximately 11-mile walk. “I told [the kids] that basically every Shabbat, we come home and eat the festive meal and have company and guests. Most Shabbats we’re doing for us, and today, we have a chance to really do something for Shabbat.”
Pelman, who had spent time walking around New York’s neighborhoods during his time in yeshivah in the 1990s, said he wasn’t worried during their trek because he had been dispatched to many different neighborhoods back then helping synagogues celebrate Jewish holidays.
“I was confident that they could do it,” he said, talking about the impact the walk would have on his children down the road. “And it would be definitely an experience that they can take and grow from.”
The four arrived at their relatives’ home at about 11 p.m., met by the same gentleman who had taken their bags and the younger children to their hosts, and who was waiting for their safe arrival.
Though it wasn’t easy for the kids, the next day the rabbi said his son agreed it was the right choice to make the walk. “As soon as we came home,” said the rabbi, “we made Kiddush and were able to keep Shabbat and to respect Shabbat the way it should have been.”
The family attended the wedding on Monday night, Feb. 24, and then flew back three days later, on a very uneventful flight home.