The Jewish Nomad: Notes on a flight from Toronto to Florida that failed to launch

Toronto before dawn on Jan. 17, 2022, as seen by Ilana Zackon—who thought she could escape that day.

Have you ever spent 12 hours waiting in an airport because there’s a massive snowstorm outside—and then never even make it to the plane? 

Reader, it happened to me.

Picture this…

You have a trip booked to sunny Florida to visit your partner’s family. It’s your first international trip after 22 pandemic months and you are PUMPED.

The alarm was set for 5:50 a.m., but you wake up instinctively at 4:30 because you’re so darn excited to get out of cold wintery Toronto that’s dipped down to -20 C.

You then mentally pat yourself on the back for having oh-so-much extra time to be uber-prepared—the Uber itself was pre-ordered, of course—shower, even have time to stretch a bit and then finally walk out of your apartment to…


Oof. Your friends and family had warned you a snowstorm was coming, but you tried to stay optimistic (and are still trying). 

Your pre-dawn driver finally pulls up. He’s calm and polite, despite the wild winds and white-out storm surrounding you. 

He helps put your luggage in the trunk. You mask up, hop inside and then set off into the blizzardy unknown. 

You can barely see out the windows, which are covered in thick ice, and hope and pray you will at least make it to the airport. If you just get to the airport, everything will be okay, right? 

You try to comfort yourself with images of the beach and all the fun you’ll have trying to not to pick up COVID while you’re there. (You’re staying in a highly vaccinated neighborhood and aren’t going to the clubs. Not to fret, reader.)

Being on the highway is like driving in a school zone in suburbia. Some guy in front of you even gets out of his car to shovel around it. On. The. Highway.

At 7:50 a.m., one hour past the time you had hoped, you finally arrive at Toronto Pearson International Airport

You breeze through check in, baggage drop, security and customs and think, “Wow, look at me go. I’m way ahead of schedule.”

When you arrive at the gate and look out the big windows, you see that dreaded white fog and heavy snowfall engulfing the environs, and begin to silently panic. 

Flights to New York and Philadelphia have already been cancelled—the planes couldn’t even make it to Toronto. 

The Florida plane is OK, though, according to your handy dandy app which says “flight on time.” You can see the plane is outside, surrounded by snow, of course, but you’ll surely get on, right? Right!

The flight was supposed to leave at 9:50 a.m. When it gets delayed 30 minutes, it feels like no big deal. You can handle that… but then, that 30 minutes becomes another 30 minutes… and then ANOTHER. And another and another and another!

You try to read. You doodle a picture of the overpriced latte you bought at Starbucks out of boredom (I’m convinced this was all a ploy to get everyone to pay their entire travel budgets in airport food), you eavesdrop (turns out there are a lot of Jews going to Florida, shocker), you go for a walk around the seats a bunch of times, you stare out at the depressing view out the window.

“We’re just waiting for them to clear the snow on the tarmac and around the plane,” comes the announcement.

But, the snow doesn’t seem to be getting removed at all.

A dude next to you decides to DJ loud techno music from his computer, much to everyone else’s amusement and/or chagrin. 

A group of Gen Zers chat excitedly about learning a TikTok dance to pass the time and get their older buddy to order them illegal sugary alcoholic drinks—which their underage bellies can’t hold all too well.

You watch strangers befriend one another. People sleep on the ground, drink fancy cocktails, endlessly scroll on their phones… and the plane ain’t getting cleaned off.

This goes on until 4:00 p.m., when the airline staff member returns to announce: “The pilot’s shift ends at 5. If the airport doesn’t clean the snow off by 4:30, the flight is cancelled.”

Your heart sinks into your stomach. Noooooo!

And then, 12 hours after you woke up comes the official word:  “I’m sorry to say… “

You are exhausted, grumpy, emotional and at the end of your rope. You want to fall over.

Then you wait four hours downstairs, where all the baggage from all of the cancelled flights (only three planes left Pearson all day) is all mixed up and taking forever to be released. 

Now it’s 9 p.m. and you finally spot your bag. You breathe a sigh of relief. You can finally leave the stinking airport! You are FREE!

You take the shuttle to the hotel (you booked it as soon as your flight got cancelled, good job you!) and there’s… wait for it… ANOTHER line to check in. 

(The airport hotels must have made a lot of money,  because everyone affected piled in like it was nobody’s business.)

You make some more Jewish friends, who help pass the time by playing Jewish geography, chatting about your move to Toronto, and bemoaning a never-ending day of going nowhere.


It’s close to midnight, when you finally reach the front desk and get your room key.

You are beyond the point of exhaustion, you no longer feel anything. Your legs are tingly and numb, your stomach feels off, your head feels empty. 

You crash at half past midnight.

Four-and-a-half hours later, your alarm clock goes off, alerting you to go back to the airport for your new flight.

The roads have been cleared. You get in pretty fast. 

You lie on the ground near your gate, to try to get more sleep—oh, I forgot to mention, you have no shame—but feel your stomach grumbling. So, you order food and watch the news. 

Highway 401 closed because too many cars were stuck there (oof!)…  some study in Hong Kong showed hamsters can contract COVID (what?!)… the sun is out and flights should be back to normal today (YES!!!).

They announce boarding. Can it be real? Is this really happening!?

Yes. Yes, it is. And off you go.

Good job, you. You get a medal for your patience.


Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps an ominous sign I shouldn’t be travelling during a worldwide pandemic? Ah well. Hopefully I don’t get struck down by lightning on the beach.

If you have any wild snowstorm stories, drop me a line. We can kvetch together. 

This week on Bonjour Chai 

Our latest episode features American academic Rachel B. Gross, author of Beyond the Synagogue: Jewish Nostalgia as Religious Practice. The book “reveals nostalgia as a new way of maintaining Jewish continuity,” going as far as making the statement that for some American Jews eating a pastrami sandwich or buying a Rebecca Rubin doll can be perceived as a religious act.

My favourite part of the episode is when co-host Avi Finegold described an interaction he had with his daughter, who owns the doll. He had read her a passage from Rachel’s book making this claim. Her reply: “That’s just marketing!” Smart kid.

What I discovered through the interview was that Rachel herself doesn’t necessarily prescribe to the ideas contained in her books. It was her thesis project and is meant to be “descriptive” and aimed at academics, instead of convincing anyone to start worshiping dolls.

But this book isn’t meant to offer an opinion—so, here’s mine!

While the content was interesting to peruse, it brought to mind everything that makes my skin crawl about American culture and its attachment to consumerism as a way of life. I’m a very nostalgic person, don’t get me wrong, but I’m certain this alone isn’t sustainable for the future of the Jewish people.

In the book, she mentions how while certain topics, such as Israel, may be contentious, nostalgia offers a more neutral connection we can all agree on. Interesting take, but what does it achieve? (Also, we like to argue, remember?)

Rachel also talks about how Jewish nostalgia can be shared with those who aren’t Jewish themselves. No thank you! I once saw a non-Jewish colleague of mine post a photo of a challah she baked and it made me very uncomfortable. Then again, maybe I’m a hypocrite for liking sushi. (Note to self: continue examining biases.)

Ahem, all to say: I think if Judaism boiled down to tastes in deli meat, we’re in trouble.

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings—at— and found on Facebook and Instagram.

HEAR what else she has to say every week on Bonjour Chai