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Sat, Jan 23, 2010

Religious Item On An Airplane Mistaken For An Explosive Device

Aircraft Was Diverted To Philadelphia

A religious item called a tefillin being used by a Jewish teenager on board a US Airways flight from New York to Louisville was mistaken for a bomb, and the flight made an unscheduled stop in Philadelphia while a bomb squad checked it out.

The item is a series of black boxes with leather straps attached containing biblical passages. One is placed on the head, while the other goes on an arm.

Fox News reports that the teenager described the ritual when asked by the crew, but airline officials said the explanation was not clear, and so they decided to divert to Philadelphia, where they were met by the FBI and TSA.

The plane landed without incident, and passengers were questioned while the airplane was searched. FBI Spokesman J.J. Klaver said the teenager, who was traveling with his 16-year-old sister, was ultimately cleared to continue on to Louisville.

There were 15 passengers on the flight operated by Chatauqua Airlines for US Airways. All were re-booked on other flights to their destinations.

As to the item "It's something that the average person is not going to see very often, if ever," Klaver said.

Following the incident, Agudath Israel of America, a national organization representing Orthodox Jews in the United States, issued the following statement:

"Today a U.S. Airways Express flight from New York to Louisville was diverted because an Orthodox Jewish 17-year-old wore his tefillin on the plane, prompting concern among passengers who were unfamiliar with this practice.

Tefillin, or phylacteries, are black leather boxes containing small sacred scrolls. They are tied to the arm and around the head with black leather straps during morning prayers.

For several years, Agudath Israel of America has worked closely with TSA to sensitize the agency to the various religious objects and practices of Orthodox Jews; this effort has been led by Rabbi Abba Cohen, Esq., Agudath Israel's Washington Director and Counsel. Agudath Israel has also reached out to airlines in America and throughout the world to promote a greater understanding of Jewish prayer rituals. Agudath Israel has advocated for, and continues to support, enhanced training for flight attendants.

"To facilitate training and awareness, we recently created a brochure explaining Orthodox customs for individual airlines, and would be happy to share this brochure with other airlines upon request," said Rabbi A. D. Motzen, Agudath Israel's Ohio regional director who oversaw that project.

"At the same time," said Rabbi Mark Kalish, national director of government affairs for Agudath Israel of America, "we have also cautioned members of our own community that they must understand that many citizens may not be familiar with Jewish prayer rituals, and that they should explain the practice to individuals in authority before boarding planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transit."

Agudath Israel of America is fully aware of the challenges we face as a nation regarding the need to prevent terrorism and exercise extreme caution, but we hope that this incident will raise awareness among airline leaders, the traveling public, and members of our own community about the need for greater training and a higher level of understanding of Orthodox practices. An educated public, truly, is a safer public."

FMI: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/tefillin.html, www.ou.org/news/article/agudah_mincha_directory/

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