How a preference for El Al saved the life of a Brazilian legislator and his wife

Jodenir Soares, heading to Jerusalem conference, cancelled his reservation on doomed Air France flight.

El Al plane 248, 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
El Al plane 248, 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Brazilian politician Jodenir Soares is delightedly participating in a high-level Jerusalem conference this week, well aware that he and his wife owe their lives to his insistent preference for Israel's national airline, El Al, and to the budgetary constraints of the legislative assembly of Rio de Janeiro. Soares was booked to leave Rio for Tel Aviv via Paris on May 31, taking Air France, the airline customarily used by the Rio assembly when booking trips abroad for parliamentary representatives, he told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. But days before the flight, the assembly president told Soares that there were insufficient funds available for the assembly to pay for his ticket to the "Jerusalem International Conference 2009," an annual gathering that draws politicians, jurists, academics and other delegates from around the world for lectures and discussions. Soares was told he would have to pay his own fare - which he was more than happy to do; he was also urged to fly, nonetheless, with Air France, which he didn't want to do. "Since I was now buying the ticket to Israel, of course I wanted to fly El Al," he said. So Soares cancelled his and his wife Eliani's Air France reservations and booked them both on a direct El Al flight to Tel Aviv. The Air France flight in question, flight 447, plunged into the Atlantic; all 228 people on board were killed. "We were granted a second life," said Soares on Sunday. "And I'm sure it's because of the protection of the God of Israel." Soares, 50, a father of three, is also an evangelical Christian pastor who had been to Israel on six previous occasions and whose church has a sister church in Tel Aviv. He said he knew some of the people who had lost their lives on the Air France flight, including the chief of staff of Rio's mayor. Soares came to Israel intending to confer honorary citizenship of Rio upon the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, to mark Tel Aviv's 100th anniversary celebrations, as well as the highest civilian medal of the Rio state assembly upon Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. However, as of Sunday, neither mayor's office had found a slot in their schedules for the presentations. Other participants in the same conference, from the Puerto Rico Senate, are also making presentations - senate resolutions to the Knesset, expressing solidarity with the people and the state of Israel and suggesting that Puerto Rico can become a link between the Jewish and Hispanic worlds. Soares is hopeful that both the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem mayors will have found time for him by Wednesday, when he and his wife head back to Brazil - needless to say, via El Al.