I was left stranded in Holland, but after hearing that El Al had promised to send more Israeli jets to Europe to collect stranded Israelis, I found myself traveling to Rome, halfway across the European continent by train.
After 27 hours of a nerve-racking trip, I remained doggedly determined to join the rest of the people of Israel in celebration of Israel Independence Day. I finally arrived at Terminal 5 in Rome at 23:30.
Much to my amazement, I found a nearly empty terminal, deserted of passengers, aircrafts, and airline employees. Only one ticket counter had a long line of people and that was of course El Al. Exhausted Israelis from all corners of Europe had arrived to board the jumbo plane decked with Israeli flags. El Al specifically sent the plane to gather Israeli travelers and bring them back home to celebrate Independence Day with their families. It was a sort of in gathering of the exiles sponsored and facilitated by El Al.
El Al, Israel's largest airline, privatized in 2003, serves as the national airline of Israel. It was one of the first if not the only airline that was able to adjust to a state of emergency in less than 24 hours when airports across Europe were forced to shut down.
It is amazing how every time there is a national disaster or international crisis, Israel, somehow, is always among the first countries to act and lend a hand. As such a tiny country, which since its establishment has existed under constant terror and threat, Israel is constantly in a state of preparedness as well.
Zionism still here and kickingOn my way to Rome during the weekend on the train, I heard from many other Israelis that countless airlines on which they had flown did not open emergency centers in order to instruct passengers how to act during this emergency situation.
Israeli media did not stop broadcasting the news that El Al was operating to return stranded Israelis back to Israel and consequently the airline established an emergency information center to receive calls and share information on flight location points where Israelis could verify where to catch a flight back to Israel.
El Al sent 15 additional jets to transport 20,000 Israelis stuck across Europe in places including Munich, Madrid, Barcelona and Rome. El Al also ensured that the same ticket could be used regardless of the country from which travelers were scheduled to fly from in Europe, even if the flight from that particular country had been cancelled to Israel.
In addition, the El-Al crews did an amazing job, working over 20 hours non-stop to provide the best quality of services in this time of emergency.
The flight from Rome to Tel Aviv on April 20, 2010, was the best way to begin celebrating 62 years to the state of Israel. During the soft landing in Ben Gurion Airport at 7 am, I felt that there was something Biblical in the operation, something like "the wings of eagles."
As I traveled, I had much time to reflect on the country's current state and where we are today, after 2,000 years of dreaming of returning to our homeland.
I can honestly say that my experience this past Israel Independence Day renewed my belief in our state. I am back home in Sderot, the world "capital" of bomb shelters, with hope in my heart, that Zionism is still here and kicking, and that the Jewish state will continue to stand up for her citizens both around the world and at home.
Thanks to El Al, 20,000 Israelis made it back home in what was truly a reflection of the spirit that helped make Israel independent 62 years ago.
Noam Bedein is a photojournalist, lecturer and founder/director of Sderot Media Center . He has conducted briefings and tours for government officials, diplomats, foreign press, and students from around the world