El Al’s Parchment Passenger


For the last three years, El Al had a new crew — a crew of Torah scribes.

In Israel, the United States and France, sofrim wrote the Hebrew letters and assisted members of the international Jewish community who also wrote letters, in a Torah scroll Israel’s national airline had commissioned. Dedicated last week, in an outdoor ceremony at El Al headquarters in Ben-Gurion Airport, it is the first sefer Torah written expressly for an airline, says Danny Saadon, vice president for North America and Central America.

El Al, he says, is “the first airline ever to commission a holy book.” The airline flew the parchment sheets around the world, to be signed, under the watch of different scribes, by thousands of people — including the president and prime minister of Israel, the chief rabbis, heads of Jewish organizations, Jewish Nobel Prize winners and athletes, and individuals from other walks of life. “Wherever we came, we had a sofer with us.”

“This expresses … the unity of Israel,” says El Al CEO Elyezer Shkedy, a former Israeli Air Force commander in chief, who came up with the idea a few years ago when President Shimon Peres flew to Germany on El Al to address the country’s Parliament. Peres could have entered the Bundestag accompanied by a Torah scroll, Shkedy thought.

Shkedy holds the scroll during the dedication, inset, next to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, and watches as Torah scribe Yehoshua Wachsberger adds the final letters, at left.

The scroll Torah Shkedy had commissioned is in addition to a smaller one, donated decades ago, that is used during prayer services, by religious El Al employees, at the airline’s small chapel at the airport.

The scroll will fly with Israeli leaders who embark for “historic meetings,” Saadon says.