I am writing this on the second leg of my flight from Tel Aviv to New York, via Moscow on Aeroflot . This is the first time in 40 years that I have been to Moscow or flown Aeroflot . Boy have thing changed. On my last Aeroflot flight the woman next to me pulled out an umbrellas before tale off, I looked at her strangely, and she said with her eyes you will see. Sure enough as the plane accelerated for takeoff water started coming down from the ceiling. Today Aeroflot flies a fleet of modern Boeing and Airbus aircraft .Their crew is friendly and helpful and the inflight entertainment good. Not so sure about the food, I ordered vegetarian as is my habit and received the exact same food for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, it was not bad but.. As an minor airplane buff, it is really nice to see they are doing what one of the U.S. Airlines proposed to do in the 70’s give the passengers a live feed from the nose of the plane during takeoff and landing. The U.S. Airline concluded that it would scare the passengers, I guess Russians are made of stronger stuff.
I spent the night in Moscow with Russian friends. Having been there in 1975 in the waning years of Communism, all I can say is how much it has changed. One of my strongest memories of that visit was the lines that seemed to form in stores when something was available. Today there are stores, many high end everywhere. The people especially the women are all smartly dressed, and based on stickers on bags and in other places seem proud to be Russian. Putin remains very popular.
Physically one can’t help by being struck by the how large the city is, and how every is built big. In a matter of a couple of hours we traveled by train, subway cab and foot and covered vast areas of the city, which is full of old and new buildings, including a completely new downtown full of skyscrapers. At 1 am in the morning as the evening came to an end, I found myself having a snack with my hosts and sharing a brandy, discussing the nature of man and life, somehow that seemed so very Russian.
On the first leg of the flight from Tel Aviv to Moscow the plane was full of charedim(ultra Orthodox Jews). Most were on the way to Uma in Ukraine to celebrate Rosh Hashannah, at the grave of Rabbi Nachmun. Sitting in next to me in the plane was a young boy he looked 12 but was actually 15, he seemed bright and engaging, so after helping navigate his receiving kosher food, I decided to engage him in a little conversation about his beliefs. That discussion began with whether or not he could drink “unkosher” coffee. While some of the discussion was expected, only the Jews have survived through the centuries, as well as his lack of knowledge even about his own community-he had no idea that the Haredi communities are only a few hundred years old, one thing he said was downright unsettling. He said he was taught by his Rabbis that the holocaust was a miracle brought about by God to stop assimilation. He said the holocaust had forced Jews to be Jews and thus it was a miracle. When I asked him how could any miracle include the death of 1,000,000 children he was of course speechless. He was surprised when I told him that the holocaust did not stop assimilation and told him what the inter marriage rates are in the U.S. Today. When I told him that yes, he was right that the intermarriage rates were high in Germany before the war, but it was not high where most of the victims lived he asked me for the percentages. It’s clear why the Haredi world fight so hard to keep knowledge out of the hands of their young, for what they are taught is so full of lies and inaccuracies that it is clear that a little real knowledge would seriously upset their society. Somebody need to make it their mission to get that knowledge to these kids.
One final note on the last leg of the flight I had a half an hour discussion with a Habadnik, who was going through the plane asking people if they were Jewish and then asking them to put on Tefillim. As opposed to my normal discussion on the importance of the mitzvah of Tefillim vs other things, this discussion was center around the question of the appropriateness of asking the question are you Jewish on Aeroflot plane going from Moscow to New York as opposed to on the streets. I tried to explain to the young man that going around on a plane asking if you are Jewish has a great deal of historic baggage, that interfering with the privacy of people on a plane was not an acceptable behavior. I was helped by an orthodox passenger who seemed to be a supporter of habad, but close to my age and had more wisdom then the young man. We may have convinced him to instead of asking are you Jewish, to ask do you want to put on Tefillim? Stopping him seems to high a mountain to climb.