Awesome, Current Events, Judaism, Loser List, media, News, Opinion

The US Airways flight tephillin scare – why it’s a really great story

This has to be one of the most interesting stories I’ve seen in a while. And while at first I was dumbfounded by the events that made national headlines out of a 17 year-old Jewish boy’s decision to pray on an airplane. But after doing some more research more news stories about the case, there’s a lot more we can learn and smile about in the aftermath of this “misunderstanding.”

At first, I thought that this was pure Loser List material…  The crew of a plane coming out of New York should probably identify what tefillin are.  And that the crew member brought them to the attention, who also had no clue what to do, while finally deciding to divert the plane just in case…. I don’t know what to think. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know the first thing about another religion’s prayer devices so if I were put myself in the shoes of one of those passengers and saw something unfamiliar and suspicious, I’d speak up.But then again, it’s not like I’m obligated to know what these things are.

I’ve worn tefillin on an airplane on more than one occasion. Yes, one of those flights was to or from Israel on EL AL. But as an observant Jew who wears tefillin daily, having to don them on a plane due to the flight schedule interfering with normal prayer times is NOT UNUSAL. I’ve done it on buses, trains, cars (still working on boats…)

My favourite bits of ignorance occur off the plane once they already what the situation was…

“It’s something that the average person is not going to see very often, if ever,” FBI spokesman J.J. Klaver said.

At that I was like, “are you kidding me?” Or at the end of the video, I posted at the top of the post where the anchor says, “it’s all about airing on the side of caution.”

Where I get confused is with the allegation that the crew “did not receive a clear response” from the boy about what they were. Without being mean or insensitive to an issue he may have (I’m sure he doesn’t cause we would’ve known by now), what on all of G-‘d’s green earth could’ve prevented the boy from explaining the tefillin properly enough for the crew to understand what they are? Or what the heck did the crew miss when hearing the explanation? If the boy cared enough about putting on tefillin on the flight, than he probably knows a thing or two about why he’s doing it (and why on the plane at that time!) In fact, I also read somewhere that he may have had an Artscroll prayer book with him too, which has detailed explanation about what, when, where, why and how we put on tefillin.

Quoting my mother: “How can he talk when he’s davening?”

Hmm… Good point, mom. It is kind somewhat difficult to respond if you’re in the middle of shmoneh esreh or shema, when talking is prohibited no questions asked unless your life is in danger. Even though it was a joke response from my mom, if this really was the case, how do you prove to non-Jews that not talking during prayer is important regardless of how banter goes on about maybe people shouldn’t even bring religious items on board a flight or “the you better listen to the airline/security staff no matter what” attitude? I can’t see the “I can’t talk now/I’m speaking davenese” argument working here… Not to mention you can’t talk while putting them on too, so what if you’re questioned in the middle of wrapping? What do you do?

I guess using your brain is a good place to start. And making proper judgment based on the circumstances around you is smart as well.

So while I’m sure he did the steps above, by no means is the boy excluded from finger pointing. It was poor judgment not telling anyone prior to the beginning of the flight that he was going to pray with tefillin – just to be sure, there won’t be a problem.

Than again, let’s put ourselves in his shoes. It’s an early flight and he has to be responsible for his younger sister, albeit only one year younger, I would assume many things were on his mind as he getting ready to board the plane, boarding itself, and finally settling in on the plane. And I’m certain one of those questions was, “when and where am I gonna pray?”

At the end of the day, it was all misunderstanding and everybody can go home safe and sound, knowing more than they did yesterday. But even though the authorities acknowledged their mistakes the boy left without any criminal charges, I still felt the ignorance merited Loser List status…

That was… until I started researching the story more, and my perspective began to change…

(Now that I’ve gotten the ranting out-of-the-way, I can finally get to the heart of this post 🙂

I decided to google the word tefillin. I figured the key word would lead me right to the news items that would fill me in on any details I may have missed. And while I did find 908 news articles, I also found another batch of items that put a big smile on face. These were stories such as:

What are tefillin? – The Philadelphia Daily News

What are Tefillin or Phylacteries – Daily World Buzz

Orthodox Group Calls for Better Training, Greater Understanding after Plane – PR Newswire

To answer the question posed in the post’s title – why this is a really great story – it’s because of all the Torah that’s being learned, of course!!

Whether it’s being taught by media outlets or rabbis, or random Jews on the street (or in synagogue), there’s no question more people in the world today know more about Torah. You could even suggest when was the last time so many people on these earth became exposed to a piece of knowledge where its origins are completely Torah-based?! (Only the Torah can tell you what tefillin are!!)

And from a Jewish person’s perspective, can you believe the amazing opportunity we have to make a Kiddush hashem? Sure people can be upset and say that the boy was subject to unnecessary treatment from authorities and that people need to be more sensitive over the issue. Those are all great and important things, but they lack a positive outlook on the entire situation.

Personally, I am thrilled that this story got the exposure it did because this sort of story could’ve happened to me.

I would feel awkward and reclusive if I had to put on tefillin in a public area while commuting from place to place. But if circumstances had brought me to that scenario where I have to put on tefillin but time’s a ticking and I have to be somewhere early, there are laws that permit you to don tefillin in places like a plane, bus or train. That sense of awkwardness and seclusion has dissipated with the rise of this story and my hopes are that I won’t feel too intimidated to pray properly in public if need be.

However, unlike our 17 year-old headliner, I will approach an authority figure beforehand and let them know that I want to pray and make sure there won’t be any hassles. That means if details are necessary to avoid confusion – i.e. you can’t talk while putting them on or when saying certain prayers- then I’ll do it too.

This story was a real treat indeed. The Jewish people got play centre stage in the national news, but this time playing a role we’re very a familiar and comfortable with – educator.

…I can’t wait for when women are asked to take off their sheitels on flights for security purposes and see what kind of uproar occurs…

3 thoughts on “The US Airways flight tephillin scare – why it’s a really great story”

  1. women are pulled aside. all they have to do is ask to be taken to a private room with a woman security guard and she can take it off.

    happens all the time

  2. Not always true-I have worn a sheitl on many flights (not talking El Al) and have never been pulled aside or questioned. Same with my mom.
    Once I even wore a hat fall by accident. On the way there I wasn’t questioned or anything, but on the way back after going through the metal detector (without beeping), the guy asked me to take my hat off, to which I responded that I wear it for religious reasons. He sort of half-smiled and just let me go without further questions or requests to remove the hat.
    Sheitls don’t attract attention because the average joe security guard can’t tell the difference!

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