A Jewish billionaire, who asked to remain anonymous, volunteered his private jet to rescue 50 California-bound Israeli scouts and staff who were stranded in Philadelphia a day after a snowstorm grounded their planes on Feb. 13.
The local group, comprised of 16 high school students who are members of the Israeli Scouts in America and three staff counselors, were attempting to reach a national leadership convention in California.
“The students wait for this convention every year,” said Neta Burshtein, an Israeli shlicha working for the Center for Israel and Overseas branch of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “They count down the days.”
However, on Feb. 13, blistering winter storms swept through the northeastern part of the country, leading to the cancellation of their flights.
Subsequent attempts to send the students on flights the next day failed as well.
“Everyone was so disappointed, there was no hope,” said Hadas Bar-Ad, a 16-year-old scout from Wynnewood.
But members of a troop from a chapter in Las Vegas decided to help their friends in Philadelphia by pursuing a long-shot solution. They approached a billionaire who has donated money to the organization in the past and asked if he would lend his private jet to the stranded group.
The donor agreed and sent his private jet to an airport in Baltimore to collect the Philadelphia group, who call themselves Shevet Paamon, the ‘bell tribe,’ along with another team from Washington, D.C., whose flight had also been canceled.
As they were given only a few hours notice, parents reacted quickly to divide the group into several carpools while the teens hurriedly packed their bags.
Bar-Ad, who was 40 minutes away from home shopping at a mall when she heard the news, expressed the group’s sense of disbelief at the fortunate turn of events.
“It was hard to believe that two hours before we weren’t going, and then we were on our way to a private jet,” said Bar-Ad, an eleventh-grader at Lower Merion High School.
In all, 50 students and staff members flew out of Baltimore in high fashion. They were even treated on board to free goodies and drinks.
The magnitude of the good turn done by the mystery savior was not lost on the students.
“It was a great experience, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Roy Baror, 16, from Merion Station. “It was so nice of him, I can only say ‘thank you.’ ”