US town hosts 280 unexpected Israeli arrivals with kosher food

November 16, 2015  

The people of Billings, Montana didn’t know what hit them: They suddenly found themselves, and their little airport, inundated with nearly 300 passengers who had just arrived from Tel Aviv.

Engine trouble had led El Al Flight 5, from Israel to Los Angeles, to make an emergency stop at the nearest airport – which happened to be Billings Logan International, the largest airport in the 7th-least populous state in the United States.

All 279 passengers were safe, and another plane was set to be flown in from New Jersey to take them to Los Angeles. But what to do with them until then? After all, even though the airport is called “International,” it actually has no customs and border agents – meaning that the passengers were not legally in the United States and could not be processed. In fact, the airport only serves nine cities outside of Montana – all of them American.

In addition, most of the passengers eat only Kosher food, which, as Montana Television Network (MTN) dryly reported, is not “readily available” in Billings. This is not surprising, as there are only 850 Jews in the entire state – 0.1% of the population, less than 1/20th of the proportion in the U.S. as a whole.

But, as MTN titled its special afternoon news broadcast on Sunday, “International flight emergency lands in Billings, residents pitch in to feed passengers.” Two women of Billings – Kat Healy and her mother Donna – purchased kosher food and items for the passengers and personally delivered them to the airport.

Kat Healy later posted on Facebook: “Brought kosher food up to the airport for the passengers on an El Al 777 flight who had an emergency landing in Billings from their flight Tel Aviv – Los Angeles this morning. Haven’t heard that much Hebrew since being in Israel. And yes, I brought hummus.”

MTN reported that “a rabbi from Bozeman also traveled to Billings to assist with food.” The rabbi was presumably from the Chabad center in Bozeman – the only one in Montana.

The passengers continued onto Los Angeles, following an all-day delay. They spent many of those hours sequestered in a wing of the airport for security purposes, until customs and border agents arrived from Great Falls, Montana, to clear their passports, so they could remain in the country legally. The 20-person crew of Flight 5 will apparently have to wait another day or more until another plane is available to transport them.

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