Friday, January 22, 2010

Flying while Jewish

A plane was recently diverted because a flight atttendant became frightened when a young Jewish man -- a 17-year-old kid, really -- began to lay Tefillin, to put on these probably odd-looking leather boxes with long straps, in order to say his prayers.  The flight attendant was convinced he was a dangerous bomber.   I suppose Tefillin, sometimes known as phylacteries, do look strange to someone who has not come across them before.  Those little leather boxes which contain the Shemah, the most sacred prayer in Judaism, could be thought of as very dangerous, I suppose.  Anything directly involving God is bound to be powerful, if not dangerous, in some way. 

Use of them stems from this prayer, a part of the Shema, in which we are instructed to bind the commandments as a sign upon our arms and let them be ornaments between our eyes, and this is just what the young man was doing. 

"V’ahavta et YHWH…” “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, and with all your resources. And these matters which I command you today
shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall
speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and
when you arise. Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between
your eyes. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.”
Reform Jews generally don't use Tefillin (but some certainly do); the more orthodox among us use them.  Women don't generally use them (but some certainly do!).  They have a very loose parallel in the Catholic use of a rosary, though the rosary is more a matter of personal style than something Catholics feel commanded by God to do, I think.  Male Orthodox Jews feel comanded to use these when they pray.   That kid on the plane was probably scared of flying and needed to pray, and this is how he prayed, with Tefillin. 

The plane was diverted.  He was taken off the plane and questioned by the FBI.  Of course they let him go and he continued on the flight and eventually got where he was going,.  All this because a flight attendant had such limited experience of the world that she failed to recognize someone else's prayer style.  Shouldn't there be a course, in these dangerous flying times, that enlightens the people who serve on flights to prayer  and cultural differences of others?  That would surely prevent such a huge and insulting waste of FBI time and passenger inconvenience. 

OK, so the flight attendant was possibly an ignorant dolt.  Was there no one on the plane who recognized what they were, who could have said something to enlighten the frightened flight attendant?  Wouldn't you think?  Next time, if you're on a flight and this happens, you'll know.  Say something to the stewardess.  Somebody ought to.  Maybe there ought to be a sensitivity training course given in all the churches to enlighten members of the majority religion about the rest of us.  Hello?  We're out here, and don't do things the same way you do, but that doesn't make us mad bombers. 

Here's a link to a good take on it from Jewcy:

Photo Credit:  Bachsphotostream on Flickr

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