On his return trip from Florida after Passover, Zachary Ottenstein wasn’t planning on bonding with his father over chess and classic rock.
Ottenstein’s phone blew up when he turned it on last night after the holiday: Fort Lauderdale was underwater, and flights out of the airport, including their flight to New York, were canceled. After the wettest day in the city’s history, the area was underwater.
They had loved their Passover week at a hotel, but they wanted to be home in time for Shabbat the following evening. He talked to his father, Matthew.
He said we didn’t want to spend another two days searching for somewhere to stay and eat.
Their experience was not unusual: After Thursday’s storms, families from across the country who chose Passover vacation packages in the Sunshine State were trapped in Fort Lauderdale.
Since roughly a month’s worth of rain fell in one hour on Wednesday, travelers to the airport reported seeing car headlamps sitting deep in water.
Traditional observant Jews, who don’t drive or fly on Shabbat, had to decide whether to leave Fort Lauderdale before sunset on Friday or stay for at least two more days, until Saturday at nightfall, without the support of the institutional infrastructure that had made their Passover vacations possible.
The Ottensteins initially searched for other planes, moving farther away from Fort Lauderdale with each search.
They eventually came across a bare-bones solution.
Except for one flight from Tampa to Chicago and one from there to New York, there weren’t any flights, according to Ottenstein.
At 10:30 p.m., they checked into a flight, rented a car, departed Fort Lauderdale. and arrived in Tampa at about 3 in the morning. — just before the 5 a.m. takeoff for Chicago.
Some people chose to spend Shabbat in the South. A Chabad rabbi, Mendel Fayershteyn, informed the locals that he was prepared to help families stuck at the airport.
It turned out that there was just a small number — approximately six or seven, he claimed in an interview — and he located residences for them to remain in until Sunday when the airport is anticipated to be back to capacity and delivered kosher meals to them.
He left for his in-laws’ and gave the keys to one of the airport families for one of the properties, which was his own.
According to Fayershteyn, most of the help he provided to the stranded Jews was psychological.
In an interview, he claimed, “It was more like people were panicking; it wasn’t like an emergency.” “I would say that hearing that everything will be OK was more therapeutic for the people.”