The description of a comforting and positive encounter on a recent flight from Europe to the United States has gone viral. On a flight back from Israel after chaperoning a Mayanot Taglit-Birthright trip, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rochel Groner found herself in a unique position to help a fellow passenger. An hour into an eight-hour connecting flight from Europe—and after a three-hour delay before takeoff—a young boy with autism had a meltdown.
“You could hear his cries throughout the plane,” wrote Rabbi Bentzi Groner, who along with his wife, Rochel, co-directs the Charlotte, N.C. chapter of Friendship Circle and ZABS Place, an upscale thrift boutique and employment-training center for young adults with disabilities.
A “meltdown,” which appears similar to an extreme tantrum, is a response in people with autism to sensory overload. “You could feel the tension among the other passengers,” he continued in a Facebook post.
The child’s parents seemed overwhelmed by the situation, and despite there being no overt comments from other passengers, “it was getting very uncomfortable,” related Groner.
Rochel Groner introduced herself to the boy’s parents as a professional caregiver and extended her hand to the boy. He reached out and took it. They walked together to the bulkhead, where she sat rocking and playing with him for a few hours.
The post and photos of the encounter have received thousands of reactions and been shared on Facebook more than 500 times.
“Don’t need to see Wonder Woman in the theater,” wrote one person. “Just drive on down to ZABS Place. She’s there every day!”
“This is the most beautiful story I have heard about in a very long time. We need more Rochels in this world,” wrote another.
“While most of the passers-by looked on with awe,” wrote Bentzi Groner, “little did they know that for Rochel, this is her life. At Friendship Circle, we’re taught that if we just offer our hand in love and acceptance, miracles will follow.”