The Transportation Security Administration has made its employees aware the Jews with a kippa and praying with tefillin are not necessarily terrorists.
This good news should help Jews relax when praying at the airport or on the airplane during the Passover holiday.
This is no laughing matter.
When a Jewish teen put on his tefillin and prayed on board a US Airways four years ago, the crew panicked and aborted the flight from LaGuardia Airport, landing in Philadelphia amid unfounded fears of a terrorist bomb.
The tefillin’s two small Scripture-filled boxes were a bit strange to the nervous crew. After all, they could be explosives inside. Or maybe a collapsible Uzi.
And those straps! There are two straps hanging down from the tefillin that are put on the head, and there is a strap on one arm, so who knows? Someone who never saw tefillin in his life could run away with his imagination and suspect that the straps could be wires from an explosive device.
The plane landed, and the boy, a lot more scared than the crew, was met by police, the FBI and bomb-sniffing dogs
And he didn’t even get a chance to pray.
A similar incident the following year caused the pilots of an Alaska Airlines flight to lock down the cockpit and alert authorities because of three Orthodox Jews with tefillin on the flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles.
When the same thing happened on a flight in New Zealand, the country’s Race Relations Commissioner said the armed response was unfortunate and showed “an exaggerated fear of terrorism.”
So this time, TSA is prepared and instructing staffers that tefillin are not bombs, the kippa is not designed to hide a bomb, and matzah is not a bomb.
“Our workforce is aware of the unique items carried by individuals and religious practices individuals may engage in while traveling,” said a TSA statement. This may include reading of religious text or participating in prayer rituals. Observant travelers may be wearing a head covering, prayer shawl, and phylacteries — in Hebrew, kippa, tallit, and tefillin.”
The TSA has also informed baggage inspectors to be careful with matzah packages.
Perhaps they have explained to them that matzah is not suspicious cardboard. Hopefully, workers understand that they are not to be munching on any cookies made with leavened bread when checking matzah packages
“Some travelers will be carrying boxes of matzah, which are consumed as part of the Passover ritual. Matzah can be machine or handmade and are typically very thin and fragile, and break easily,
“Passengers traveling with religious items, including handmade matzah, may request a hand inspection by the TSO of the items at the security checkpoint.” TSO is the abbreviation for Transport Security Officer.
Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella group for Orthodox congregations, expressed its “profound thanks” for the notice, stating that the agency has been deeply sensitive to our community’s needs and concerns on this and many issues.”
But if a worker does accidentally break a matzah in half, who gets the Afikomen
(JTA contributed to this report.)
Below is the TV report of the tefillin-bomb scare four years ago.