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Top Flight

Rachel Ginsberg

Why do Jews put on those straps and sway, instead of sleeping like everyone else on the plane? Why do they insist on gender separation, and why are they always the last ones on, running up to the gate with bags of overweight carry-ons? Flight attendants would actually like to be enlightened, and Rabbi Yisrael Noach Guttmann has provided them with a syllabus.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

airplane windowThe flight crew on Alaska Airlines Flight 241 from Mexico City to Los Angeles flew into a panic when three Mexican Jews decided it was time to daven. After wrapping themselves in tefillin and murmuring some strange-sounding incantations, the flight attendants notified the security crew of strange, suspicious behavior in the cabin, prompting them to lock down the cockpit and issue a ground security alert. The plane landed safely at LAX, met by fire crews, foam trucks, FBI agents, Transportation Security Administration personnel, and police. The three Jews were escorted off the plane and questioned by the FBI before being released to make their connecting flights.

The incident, which took place last spring, was surprising. Haven’t flight attendants learned by now what tefillin are? Apparently not, even after all the publicity of the previous airborne embarrassment when the pilot of a US Airways early morning flight from New York to Louisville made an emergency “heroic” landing in Philadelphia in order to rescue his passengers from a terrorist bomb threat — which turned out to be a teenage boy putting on his morning tefillin.

When the plane landed in Philadelphia, a frightened 17-year-old Caleb Leibowitz and his 16-year-old sister, Dalia — on the way from White Plains to Louisville to visit their grandmother — were pulled off the plane to bomb-sniffing dogs, police, and the FBI. The apologetic flight attendant later explained that when she saw the young man putting funny-looking boxes on his head and arms, she panicked when he began winding “wires” that protruded from those boxes all around his body.

But young Caleb shouldn’t have felt too bad. A few years back, an Israeli chassid was forced off an Air Canada Jazz flight from Montreal to New York because he was “swaying and mumbling” in his seat — and he wasn’t even “wired.”

And more recently, an Israeli tourist visiting New Zealand caused a minor panic on a New Zealand ferry after the captain reported to police that a passenger was carrying a “suspicious article.” Some media even reported a hostage situation aboard the ferry.

The culprit was described as wearing what appeared to be “boxes” with “wires taped” to his body. “The individual had two boxes attached, one box taped to his leg and one box seemingly taped to his forehead,” a transportation services spokesman was quoted as saying in the report. Jewish sites reported that the man caught the early morning ferry and didn’t have time to daven before the voyage.


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