Other than being rabbi of Tiferet, most probably the next reason for me being proud to live in Dallas, would be that Dallas is the home of Southwest Airlines. It was with more than a modicum of interest therefore, that I read about the passing last week of the founder of Southwest, Herb Kelleher. I have no idea about Mr. Kelleher’s faith or religion, but from what I learned about him, Mr. Kelleher possessed certain personality traits that were in my opinion, very Jewish.
There are those, no doubt, who saw Mr. Kelleher as “the little engine that could.” I would have to disagree. Unlike “the little engine that could,” Herb Kelleher’s mantra was “I know I can, I know I can.” Herb Kelleher was the David who did not hesitate to go up against the Goliaths and give Americans “a flight for their money.” And he succeeded, well beyond and even despite the predictions and prognostications of a good many, including those in the airline industry. While other airlines were claiming to be “ready when you are,” Southwest made it their credo to be ready to turn around and take off again in the blink of an eye. While others were flying the “friendly skies,” Southwest was flying the “friendly 737’s.”
No different than others, rabbis… gossip! Rabbis hear of other rabbis signing contracts that they have no intention whatsoever of honoring. Should it happen that a congregation is in a pinch and turns to the rabbi to read Torah, the rabbi’s employment contact is immediately rewritten at the rabbi’s insistence. Rabbis also hear of congregations drawing up contracts that the congregation has no intention of honoring. And suddenly, the expectations of the rabbi are not those same expectations stipulated in the rabbi’s employment contract. Airlines are much the same. Within the last number of years, we have witnessed imposed luggage fees and the economy section (as opposed to first class) being subdivided into three classes: mentschen (human beings), schnorrers (freeloaders) and b’heimahs (animals). Southwest is one airline that can be trusted. There are no luggage fees, no penalties for flight change or cancellation, and everyone flies the same class. Apparently, Herb Kelleher was not only aware of Psalm 15:4 (They always do what they promise, no matter how much it may cost,) but made sure that it was carried out religiously on every Southwest flight.
The FAA or Federal Aviation Administration has strict and vigorous standards that ensure the safe (and hopefully) uninterrupted operation of each aircraft from the time it pushes back from its departure gate, until the time it comes to a full and complete stop at its arrival gate. I wish that standards were as strict and vigorous, when it comes to flight attendants and gate attendants. There are any number of stories that for whatever reason do not make the news, of uncalled for treatment of passengers, by airline employees. It has reached the point, that prior to boarding an aircraft, I begin to lecture myself over and over: “Keep your mouth shut, Rabbi Zell.” Kevin Freiberg, who together with his wife Jackie, authored “Nuts: Southwest Airline’s Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success” writes that Herb Kelleher didn’t see being disciplined and fiercely competitive as mutually exclusive with loving people and treating them with dignity. Perhaps that’s the key ingredient. As one who travels in my work clothes (double breasted suit, shirt and tie), I cannot help but notice, that many a traveler must have an exceedingly low self-image, based on the way he or she dresses for travel. That however never prevented Herb Kelleher from insisting that Southwest employees accord respect and dignity, even when such respect and dignity often goes unnoticed or unappreciated. Maybe if other airlines would practice respecting and honoring others (Ethics of Our Fathers 4:1) in the same fashion stressed by Herb Kelleher, that respect and honor would eventually be repaid in kind.
To the best of my knowledge, aspirations such as being a David among Goliaths, keeping promises even if those promises are to your own detriment and treating others with dignity were not seen by Herb Kelleher as being particularly Jewish. They were seen by Herb Kelleher as being particularly Southwest .