Incident Aboard Alaska Airways Flight Shows Need For Education On Jewish Prayer Rituals

New York, NY, March 15, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said the incident aboard an Alaska Airways flight, in which flight attendants issued a security alert after three Mexican Jews began praying with Tefillin, illustrates the need for the better education of airline personnel about rituals involving traditional Jewish prayer items. 

The League wrote to the heads of all the major U.S.-based airlines, including Alaska Airlines, in January 2010 following a similar incident aboard a U.S. Airways flight, calling for training of airline personnel to become more knowledgeable about ritual items and religious customs "so that they may appropriately respond if presented with similar situations." 

"In today's atmosphere of heightened security concern, it is understandable that passengers might be alarmed upon noticing fellow travelers bearing unfamiliar or seemingly strange objects," said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director.  "The incident aboard Alaska Airways Flight 241 is a reminder that many people, including airline personnel, are unfamiliar with religious ritual items and practices." 

As an initial step toward educating airline personnel about Jewish religious items, the League worked with Chabad-Lubavitch to prepare a flier discussing Tefillin (PDF) and has offered further educational materials and programs to the airlines.  ADL has written to the Chairman and CEO of Alaska Airlines and Alaska Air Group offering additional assistance through its diversity training programs. 

Tefillin, or phylacteries, are Jewish religious items that consist of straps and two boxes containing Bible verses.  They are wrapped on the arm and the head during weekday morning prayers, and many Jews consider wearing Tefillin to be obligatory. 

Flight attendants aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 241 issued a security alert March 13 after three Orthodox Jewish passengers aboard the flight, which originated in Mexico City, began prayers using Tefillin.  The plane was met at the Los Angeles airport by fire crews, foam trucks, FBI agents, Transportation Security Administration personnel and police.

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