The sky over Morristown Municipal Airport was blue and crowded on Sunday, Aug. 2, as the clock edged toward noon.
“I was number six when I landed,” said Yanki Schmidt of Brooklyn, who flew a rented Cessna 172 Skyhawk for the occasion.
Schmidt was among about 30 pilots who flew in from, among other places, Boston, Toronto, and Long Island, for a “fly-in,” a gathering of the US Israel Flying Club and Jews in Aviation.
For this group, getting there is half the fun.
“I fly to leave the two-dimensional world and go into the three-dimensional world,” said Ryan Adelson of Toronto. “It’s just exhilarating. Being able to look down at the ground and realize how insignificant you are and how significant everything around you is. I once flew across Canada from Calgary to Toronto, and to see that landscape — it’s something else.”
“Everything looks different from the air. You learn to recognize things in a different way,” said Yaakov Forchheimer of Lakewood.
The US Israel Flying Club started about six years ago, flying tight formations over Manhattan to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. That tradition ended a few years ago, but the group continued.
“We’re people who love to fly, who love Israel, and we’re mostly Jews,” said group cofounder Alon Pereg, an El Al pilot vacationing in the States. Asked why he came, he looked at an outsider quizzically and said with a shrug, “For the love of flying!” He wasn’t kidding. He drove from Tenafly, where he is staying, all the way to Farmingdale on Long Island, to fly in to Morristown.
Jews in Aviation was founded in 2009 as a networking organization for Jewish pilots.
The fly-in provides an opportunity for these two groups to socialize. It’s also a destination. Because when flying is your hobby, one question always looms: Where am I going?
There was plenty of camaraderie, banter in both Hebrew and English, and at least one surprise visitor. Jack Elliott, who wrote “Wings over New Jersey,” a Sunday Star-Ledger column about aviation that ran for more than 38 years, arrived with his wife and son, also a pilot.
Flying is not a cheap hobby — Schmidt shared his cost: $165 an hour. And that’s if you’re a renter. Owning a plane is another issue altogether, and many of the pilots at the gathering came in their own aircraft.
In a nod to the expense, Forchheimer said he briefly ran his own website, which he called “The $100 Hamburger.” Sitting with Ryan Adelson of Toronto and Schmidt, the threesome chuckled that at today’s prices it would have to be upgraded to “The $500 Hamburger.”
While most of the talk was lighthearted, Adelson, a commercial pilot and flight instructor, shared a more serious story that explained what made him want to become more involved with both groups.
He related that he had left a job at Toronto Airways to work with an executive charter company earlier this year. Shortly after starting, he said, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks started flying. “They would call the Westwind — an Israeli-made aircraft — a ‘Jew canoe.’ They would call the nosebleed section of a stadium the ‘Jew bag section.’ And then they started talking about kidnapping me because ‘all Jews are rich.’”
His colleagues may have been joking, but Adelson wasn’t laughing. After unsuccessfully attempting to change the atmosphere, he finally left. He has since filed a lawsuit against the company.
In the thick of it, he posted on the Jews in Aviation site, seeking advice. He was relieved to get plenty of support. “You really feel on your own when it happens,” he said.
Carmel Beham, from Tel Aviv, was the only woman pilot taking part in the fly-in. Currently employed as an El Al flight attendant, she earned her solo pilot’s license one month ago and is working toward a commercial license, which she estimates will take about two years. “I’ve always been a geek about airplanes,” she said. “I feel more natural in the air than on the ground. Seeing things from above feels like the natural way to recognize them.”
According to Women in Aviation International, women make up just 6 percent of pilots today. Beham chalks it up to old stereotypes and said she hopes things are changing.
One Jamaican pilot, D’sent Nicholas, an instructor with Republic Airways in Farmingdale, NY, came to the gathering in a bid to spend some time with his pilot buddy, Shahar Bahar, in from Israel. Nicholas was thrilled to join the group for the day.
“Being from Jamaica, I love the closeness and family-ness. They accepted me with open arms!” he said. “Eating, sharing stories and family in an airport under beautiful skies — what could be better?”