I know a lot of non-Jews know nothing about observant Jewish practice, but the fact that someone mistook a young man’s tefillin for a bomb on a plane to Louisville, KY, made me laugh out loud. Guffaw actually.
It seems that this morning while on a US Airways flight a 17-year-old Orthodox Jew was about to say his morning prayers when another passenger mistook the phylacteries—as Reuters is (correctly) calling them—for a bomb. (You can read the whole Reuters story here.) I suppose in the current environment someone might think those two little black boxes with leather straps attached could contain something other than a prayer—especially when someone starts strapping them onto his body. I suppose that could look like a suicide bomber in the making…if you didn’t know any better.
When the alarmed passenger saw the tefillin, he alerted the crew, and the plane was immediately diverted to Philadelphia. Once on the ground, authorities questioned the boy (who, I assume, never got to say his morning prayers…poor kid), and quickly determined the incident had been a false alarm. That was only after police, bomb-sniffing dogs and federal agents met the plane and decided no one needed to be arrested.
Part of me wants to say, “Well, duh…” However, I realize that the majority of the world has never seen tefillin, let alone an Orthodox Jew. That’s why, according to a recent The Buzz Log posting by Mike Krumboltz, online searches on both “phylactery” and “tefillin” surged from nothing into breakout status today. Other related popular queries included “What is a phylactery” and “tefillin pictures,” said Krumboltz.
As Krumboltz commented, “This most recent scare clearly highlights the need for more cultural understanding.” Well, duh…
Most people have no idea about Jewish rituals or observances. Schools continue to hold tests on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It’s hard to find Chanukah candles in a grocery store located in an area that doesn’t have a large Jewish population. Yes, indeed, the world at large needs more Jewish cultural understanding.
I’m sure Muslims would say the same, though. And Jews could be faulted for not knowing much about Christianity or Islam and the rituals or observances that go with those religions.
At the risk of stereotyping a bit (well, a lot), I wonder if this “mistake” had something to do with the fact that the plane was heading from New York to the South? Was it a Southerner or a New Yorker who alerted the crew? People from the South don’t know too much about religiously observant Jews—or Jews in general. (I know this, because I lived in Georgia for 10 years and my in-laws lived in Missouri and were born in Kansas and Oklahoma.) There just aren’t too many religiously observant Jews—or Jews in general—in the South. I’m not saying there aren’t any, mind you, just not too many. People in New York, well, that’s a different story. They are exposed to a lot of Jews of all denominations. Hadn’t one of those New Yorkers on the plane ever seen an observant Jew praying and using tefillin? Or, at the very least, didn’t they recognize the boy as an Orthodox Jew and realize he was just wanting to pray?
As the boy’s grandmother reportedly said in this AP story, “All’s well that ends well, and maybe some good will come to the world because of it.” Yes, indeed, maybe it will. If people are learning about tefillin and observant Jewish practices, that’s already good. That’s a bit of Jewish cultural education in the making.
Also, I must say that despite the religious faux pas, I’d rather the airlines were overly careful than not. Let them stop that plane for some tefillin rather than allow a bomb to go off, because someone didn’t bother to notice something “odd.” After all, just under a month ago someone tried to detonate a bomb on a Christmas Day flight. Better safe than sorry.
However, in this case, the whole incident could have been averted if someone knew just a bit about observant Jewish practice and if terrorists hadn’t so successfully terrorized us. Really this particular event offers a sad statement about both our religious education and our emotional state as a national population. And that does not leave me laughing.