Israeli flight attendant says shalom to UAE, farewell to airline


Hedva Opatovsky, El Al’s longest-serving flight attendant, Israel’s national carrier, closes an overhead compartment on board the return trip to Abu Dhabi, which was his last flight before retiring, on landing plane at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, September 1, 2020. Photo taken September 1, 2020. REUTERS / Nir Elias / Pool

BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel (Reuters) – Hedva Opatovsky’s first flight to the United Arab Emirates was her last for El Al, the Israeli airline through which she has traveled nearly half a century of war and peacemaking .

The airline’s longest-serving flight attendant retired on Wednesday after leading cabin crew on a groundbreaking return trip to Abu Dhabi with Israeli envoys who struck a deal normalizing relations with the Gulf power.

“This is the historic flight, I think, of (my) 46 years old – very, very moving,” she told Reuters, referring to her long career with the airline. “This is a good opportunity to open other countries to make peace with us.”

“That’s what we want, always,” she said, noting that the Hebrew for “hello” or “goodbye” – “shalom” – also means “peace”.

When Opatovsky joined El Al, Israel was reeling from the 1973 Middle East War. Three years later, her husband, an Israeli security agent, accompanied diplomats who began peace talks with the Egypt. A similar deal with Jordan would follow 20 years later.

She looked after Israeli prime ministers and foreign dignitaries. Monday’s outbound flight to Abu Dhabi passed over Saudi Arabia – a breakthrough for the Israeli air force that allowed it to contemplate its vast previously inaccessible desert.

Passengers cheered when Flight 972 – a nod to Israel’s phone code – landed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Opatovsky, reluctantly retiring at 67, bade them farewell to the PA system: “May we always go in peace.”

Written by Dan Williams; edited by Philippa Fletcher

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