Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Only on a Plane to Israel

By Susan Esther Barnes

Please accept my apologies for typos. I'm not used to this keyboard yet and I have a very limited amount of time!

This is my first post from Israel, baruch hashem.

I'm on the plane from JFK in New York to Tel Aviv. I have the aisle seat, and in the window seat is a born-again Christian woman named Debbie from Florida who wants to engage me in a running monologue about her cell phone and whatever else springs to mind.

Presently I notice, hovering nearby, a pale young man with a beard, a black hat and tzitzit (fringes worn by Orthodox Jews). I glance at his boarding pass and see he has the seat between Debbie and me. I stand in the aisle and gesture toward the seat, but he looks anxious and simply walks further down the aisle without saying a word. I suspect the trouble is his religious beliefs prevent him from sitting between two women.

I hear another man similarly dressed say to him, "I would help if I could," and eventually the young man wanders back. I gesture toward the seat again, but he says, "I can't sit between..."

Clearly, at this point I have a choice to make. I booked the flight months ago and I want the aisle seat, where there is more room and I have easy access to the restroom. I believe in respecting, and making reasonable accomodations for, the religious beliefs of others. The phrase "Don't put a stumbling block before the blind" pops into my head, and I realize I just don't want to enable this behaviour. Maybe if he sits between two women for one flight he will realize it isn't a disaster.

The flight attendants announce a few times that the flight is full and everyone needs to sit down so we can leave the gate. Eventually, the doors are closed and the flight attendant tells the guy to sit in his seat. He refuses. The flight attendant insists, and instead the guy walks toward the back of the plane again.

Shortly, up walks a frum (Jewishly observant) woman named Dinah, who says she traded seats with the anxious young man. At first I feel a bit guilty, but as Debbie regales Dinah with tales of how she heals herself and others with the "Word of God," I am glad I was selfish and kept my assigned seat. Dinah, God love her, is a kind and patient woman who treats Debbie much more kindly than I think I would have been able to if I were sitting next to her.

I smile, because it all means without a doubt I'm on my way to Israel.

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