Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Flying the Uninformed Skies

I imagine that folks on the West Coast are exposed to Orthodox Judaism somewhat less than residents of, say, New York City. Still, I'm surprised by this story about an Alaska Airlines flight crew that alerted law enforcement because a trio of Jewish men donned their tefillin (a.k.a. "phylacteries," or prayer thongs) and started praying in Hebrew during a flight to Los Angeles. Even if you don't know a word of Hebrew, I would think that the style of Orthodox Jewish prayer would be very distinctive and recognizable, especially the back-and-forth rocking motion ("davening"). Maybe I'm just one of the few goyim who's read Chaim Potok. (Come to think of it, my high school library's copy of My Name is Asher Lev was in pristine condition...)

The flight attendants said they were concerned not only by the unfamiliar prayer rituals and language, but also because the men failed to comply with repeated requests to remain seated. Some understanding on both sides would have gone a long way toward preventing a minor misunderstanding from escalating into a major fiasco. The passengers should have complied with the flight attendants' requests and perhaps given more detail about what they were doing. (The CNN story said they "responded" to the flight attendants "but provided very little explanation.") The flight attendants evidently need a "World Religions 101" class. But then, so do most Americans.

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