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Child With Autism Has a Meltdown on a Plane: Chabad Emissary Steps In to Help

Child With Autism Has a Meltdown on a Plane: Chabad Emissary Steps In to Help

An unexpected encounter creates a circle of friendship on a transatlantic flight

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Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rochel Groner comforts a boy with autism on a transatlantic flight from Europe to the United States.
Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rochel Groner comforts a boy with autism on a transatlantic flight from Europe to the United States.

The description of a comforting and positive encounter on a recent flight from Europe to the United States has gone viral. On a flight back from Israel after chaperoning a Mayanot Taglit-Birthright trip, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rochel Groner found herself in a unique position to help a fellow passenger. An hour into an eight-hour connecting flight from Europe—and after a three-hour delay before takeoff—a young boy with autism had a meltdown.

“You could hear his cries throughout the plane,” wrote Rabbi Bentzi Groner, who along with his wife, Rochel, co-directs the Charlotte, N.C. chapter of Friendship Circle and ZABS Place, an upscale thrift boutique shop and employment-training center for young adults with disabilities. A “meltdown,” which appears similar to an extreme tantrum, is a response in people with autism to sensory overload. “You could feel the tension among the other passengers,” he continued in a Facebook post.

The child’s parents seemed overwhelmed by the situation, and despite no overt comments from other passengers, “it was getting very uncomfortable,” related Groner.

So Rochel Groner introduced herself to the boy’s parents as a professional caregiver and extended her hand to the child. He reached out and took it. They walked together to the bulkhead, where she sat rocking and playing with him for a few hours.

The post and photos of the encounter have gotten thousands of reactions and been shared on Facebook more than 500 times.

“Don’t need to see ‘Wonder Woman’ in the theater,” wrote one commenter. “Just drive on down to ZABS Place. She’s there every day!”

“This is the most beautiful story I have heard about in a very long time. We need more Rochels in this world,” wrote another.

“While most of the passers-by looked on with awe,” wrote Bentzi Groner, “little did they know that for Rochel, this is her life. At Friendship Circle, we’re taught that if we just offer our hand in love and acceptance, miracles will follow.”

Rochel Groner, center left, and Rabbi Bentzi Groner, right, at a Friendship Circle event.
Rochel Groner, center left, and Rabbi Bentzi Groner, right, at a Friendship Circle event.


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AVigdor September 3, 2017

The amazing thing is that each and every one of us could be Rochel if we just offer our hand in love and acceptance indeed miracles will follow. But we need one like Rochel Groner to show us how. Reply

Sarah Phoenix Arizona July 21, 2017

Right person, right time and right place! 💖 Reply

binyomin moscow, russia July 21, 2017

i love you guys, i LLLLLOVE you!!!!) yasher koyach! Moschiah is closer here with every such a deed... thank you!!! Reply

Raquel Brisbane July 20, 2017

G-d knows who he sends who and why he sends people to this world and her purpose is clear.☺️ Reply

Anonymous Pennsylvania July 20, 2017


A beautiful Kiddush HaShem (blessing of G-d's name) Reply

Moshe Borowski Far Rockaway July 19, 2017

wow! amazing! Thank you for helping this child, and helping to dispel the horrific myth that "Jews only look after their own." Keep up the great work! Reply

Anonymous July 21, 2017
in response to Moshe Borowski:

The child is not Jewish? Are we sure? How do we know that?

The assumption that the child is not "one of our own" illustrates the 'horrific' real challenge some 'of us' face.being recognized, welcomed and accepted. Reply

Abigael Tines July 19, 2017

While this story is beautiful, it seems wrong that her face is hidden (whether by choice or by the angle of the photo) but the child's face is on display for all to see. Was permission granted from the boy's parents to share this so publicly? I've seen this question expressed in several places where this story has been shared (Facebook) with no real answer. Reply

Roman Florida July 16, 2017

Beautiful. The Friendship Circle is a wonderful organization. My child has been having weekly interactions with volunteers from The Friendship Circle for years. Warm, caring, sincere people. G-d bless them all. Reply

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