Bargain El Al tickets pre-Birthright


Think El Al’s 2012 mistake fare to Israel was a bargain? There are a couple of deals from the pre-Birthright era that you should know about.
While not mistake fares, these two cases of subsidized El Al tickets also made for some great bargain deals.

On the eve of the Gulf War in January 1991, with a U.S. state department advisory against Israel travel in effect, 400 Yeshiva University students and faculty flew to Israel on a solidarity mission dubbed "Operation Torah Shield." And students flew cheap, thanks to an anonymous donor from Miami:

"Operation Torah Shield" did not benefit from advance planning. Organized only last week, word of the mission spread rapidly in New York and seats on the Boeing 747 filled quickly. Many potential travelers had to be turned away.

"I decided to join five minutes after I heard about the trip," said Rabbi David Getterman, a Y.U. graduate from Rhode Island. Getterman said he left behind his Israeli-born wife and their 8-year-old daughter, but that he had their blessings.

The trip was an unusual bargain. Student tickets for the 12,000-mile round-trip flight sold for $50.

Calculating for inflation, that’s about $80-$90 dollars in 2012.

In 1999, groups from the left and right of Israel’s political spectrum offered highly subsidized flights for Israeli citizens who were flown back by the plane-load to vote:

Unlike many other countries, Israel has no absentee balloting.

A group sympathetic to the prime minister’s hawkish views, Chai L’Yisrael, is again bringing in voters at the bargain price of $180. But Chai L’Yisrael is being countered by Kesher, a group that opposes Netanyahu.

Some 7,000 people have applied for the flights offered through the Brooklyn- based Chai L’Yisrael, according to a source with the organization who asked not to be identified. The group, which is closely aligned with Israel’s right wing, expects, after screening, to send about 3,000 of these voters from North America and France.

The group, which has raised $500,000 so far, is supported by private individuals and has the backing of right-wing politicians in the United States, including New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind…

Chai L’Yisrael is being countered this time around by Kesher, which is supported by donations from liberal individuals and organizations, including the Philadelphia-based Shefa Fund.

Kesher was formed by Udi Behr, a 38-year-old jewelry designer who has lived in New York for 15 years.

Behr, a political novice, said the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 "woke me up to the very tough reality." Rabin, he says, did a "lot of wonderful things for Israel. He created a lot of opportunity, a lot of hope. And then we lost a lot of hope."

Behr predicts that Kesher will fly between 3,000 and 5,000 voters from across North America to Israel. The flights will cost $349 for students, and $450 for everybody else.

This ‘get out the vote’ flight deal translates to about $480 for students or $620 for non-students in 2012 dollars.

I should note that after graduating college in December 2006, I was among the lucky 550 given the opportunity to pay $180 for a round trip ticket to Israel on the Schusterman Foundation-funded "Leading Up North" mission to Israel, where we painted bomb shelters the summer after the Second Lebanon War. The fee later was revealed to be a symbolic in that participants were asked to donate it to one of a handful of pre-selected charities. As I wasn’t eligible for Birthright, this was the best deal I could have gotten.

Point is, folks, if you missed out on the 2012 El Al fare — or decided to cancel your ticket — keep your eyes peeled for other opportunities. Especially college students.

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