(JTA) — A Jewish woman comforting a distressed child was captured in heartwarming photos that quickly gained traction on social media. The photos show Chabad emissary Rochel Groner holding and comforting the young boy on a flight from Brussels to New York.
About an hour into the flight on Friday, the young boy started crying and shrieking loudly, and the atmosphere inside the plane started growing tense.
“His cries were heard throughout the plane and you could feel the tension among the other passengers. No one wanted to say anything but it was getting very uncomfortable,” Groner’s husband, Rabbi Bentzion Groner, wrote in a Facebook post, which had amassed close to 4,000 likes as of Monday afternoon. The couple, Chabad emissaries in North Carolina, were traveling back from Israel by way of Belgium after chaperoning a Birthright Israel trip.
“I felt I had to do something because no one was going to do something,” Rochel Groner, 33, told JTA. “I didn’t know if someone was going to get up and scream at this kid or if they were going to make an emergency landing.”
Groner approached the young boy and extended her hand. The boy looked to be about 8 years old and was sitting with his mother, who was wearing a traditional Muslim head covering and spoke little English.
“There were tears streaming down his face,” Groner said. Based on the boy’s behavior, Groner, who runs two organizations that help special needs children and youth, surmised that he was autistic.
“I put out my hand, and he took my hand. It was such a surreal moment, and he just took it, and he stopped crying,” she said. “He kind of just followed me into the aisle. I walked to the bulkhead, and I sat down and I put him in my lap, and I gave him a gentle but firm hug and I just started to rock him. He calmed down.”
She got creative, using a pen to trace their hands on unused nausea bags and letting him play with her phone. After about two hours, the boy got up and returned to his mother.
“It was beautiful to see. It was incredible, the transformation. Whatever had been bothering him wasn’t bothering him, he was in a better place,” she said.
“While most of the passengers watched in awe little did they know that for Rochel this is her life,” her husband wrote in the Facebook post. The couple co-directs Friendship Circle and ZABS Place, two organizations in North Carolina serving young adults with disabilities. ZABS Place is a thrift store that offers training and employment to young adults with special needs.