T here are various clues to the fact that I’m a Member of the Tribe.

Those in the know — i.e., those with religious cousins, or residents of Toms River or Jackson, New Jersey — can spot me by my mode of dress. (That same Lands’ End top worn by Kathy and Sonia looks different when paired with a black 25-inch skirt and support hose.)

Israelis will identify me by my moving lips, whether or not I’m holding a siddur. I see that flicker of silent acknowledgment, even if they spend the entire 12-hour flight or so bashing all chareidim.

And others, Jew and non-Jew alike, would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to pay attention to a flight attendant saying, “16A, kosher meal?” That’s pretty much a dead giveaway, especially for the non-Jewish passenger who is sitting at 16B. Waiting in hunger for his dinner, he smells the aroma of the hot meal, only to have the package passed over him and given to his Jewish neighbor. Because, as you know, kosher meals are distributed before the general meal service begins.

So imagine the scene: having been fasting for many of the past hours (steadily chewing gum, unless I’m in Singapore J), I tear open the plastic wrap. No, that’s an overstatement. It’s physically impossible to tear open the kosher food wrapping. Thanks to the airline ban on anything that could be construed as sharp, the most effective instrument in my handbag is either a pen or a floss-pick. Unfortunately, I’ve broken too many of each while trying to pierce a hole through that plastic wrap.

In fact, that wrap is so strong that many a time I’ve thought about going around the plane and collecting the extra wrap either for use as a counter cover for my Pesachdig kitchen, or to cover the windows in case of war.

Okay, so it’s finally open, and I’ve made my brachah, and I’m about to put that first spoonful of Regal’s finest into my mouth… when a voice says, “Excuse me, can I ask you something?”

Oh, sure, that’s just what I want. To discuss Israel’s settlement policy, or why I cover my elbows/knees/hair, especially while I’m trying

1. not to spill meatball sauce down my black T-shirt (going straight to work from the airport);

2. to balance the spoon (knife and fork being too hard to juggle) so I don’t inadvertently share orzo with my neighbor;

3. to open the single napkin into four parts, so that I can cover as much territory as possible if #1 and #2 fail.

So I have to quickly chew and swallow that first bite (Israelis get the hand signal for “rega”), all the while thinking about what approach to take. May I hereby state that, unfortunately for me, neither Rabbi Twerski nor Rabbi Tatz comprise my standard bedside reading. So philosophy and hashkafah are not subjects I’m comfortable debating. Yet the Ribbono shel Olam “watches over fools,” and I have been zocheh to receive tremendous siyata d’Shmaya when asked potentially explosive questions.

On the subject of airplane food, when I travel out of Newark Airport, I often stop at a Passaic supermarket where I buy freshly cut fruit. I find it refreshing to sit and have a light snack either in the airport lounge or on the plane. Now, I was taught that it’s rude to eat in front of other people, if it’s an item that can be shared. I was also taught that by giving a clueless someone food, but not helping them make a brachah (or at the very least, asking them to answer amen to my brachah), I may be guilty of lifnei iver, causing him to eat without having made a brachah. So when I open my container of watermelon cubes, I will always turn to check out my seatmate.

If my seatmate is obviously Israeli, I have no qualms in asking him to say a brachah, and many will gratifyingly say it without being told. Other less knowledgeable brethren will copy my words or simply answer amen. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 590)