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please think before you bash my religion

I'm honestly ashamed of the conversations I have had to have, and unfortunately seen and overheard today.  Conversations with friends, conversations with people I thought were my friends.  Conversations with and among strangers.  Comments in social media.  Coverage in the NY Times.  Coverage on television and radio.  And the list goes on.

Here's the story:

Orthodox Judaism is a term used to refer to a group of Jews who strive to live their life in keeping with the laws of the Torah (very similar to the Old Testiment, but with lots of oral tradition and interpretation).  Religion to us, is more than a culture, it's a guide, both moral and practical, in which practice is often law.  One of these laws is that all men over the age of thirteen are to put on tefillin every morning, Sunday to Friday while they pray.  Typically this is done either at home or in a synagogue, but if you're on the road, you do it on the road.  This is a time sensitive commandment, one that must be fulfilled in the earlier part of the morning.  This is not an ostentatious or elaborate gesture (as many of today's conversations have claimed), it's an everyday thing.

Yes, taking off my jacket and rolling up my sleeve in an airport waiting area while I wait to board a 6:20 AM flight, and putting leather straps and boxes onto my left arm and head is not the most comfortable experience, but it's a meaningful one and something I am supposed to do every single day.  There are times when flights take off before sunrise and land well into the day, in which case I have been forced to pray on the plane.  I generally try to ask the people sitting next to me if they mind, and offer an explanation as to the odd-looking ritual I am about to perform.  In the one case where I thought the woman was going to flip her lid at the fact that she was sitting next to a Jew (she asked if I was one of the Jews), I spoke to the flight attendants and used the galley.  I fly just about every week and I have never had an issue.

Here's what happened today:

A seventeen year old boy put on his tefillin and prayed on an airplane.  When asked what he was doing, he politely explained.  The flight attendants were unfamiliar with this practice and notified the pilot, who made a judgment call (better be safe than sorry) and made an emergency landing at the closest destination.  This caused quite a stir, delays, etc.  Simple misunderstanding gone somewhat haywire.

Here's where it gets wrong:

I'm a noticeably Orthodox Jew.  You only need to look at my headgear to get that one.  But for some reason friends, friends of friends, and even a random person on the subway felt it appropriate to not only bring this story to my attention, but to ask why "you guys" need to be so ostentatious.  Why do you need to throw every aspect of our religion in everyone's faces?  These conversations didn't only take place in my small circle. Dozens of commenters on the NY Times, and even the some news media themselves expressed this opinion. 

This teen did nothing wrong.  He has every right according to US law, the TSA and even the airline in question to practice his faith... yes on the plane!  Other passengers may have been worried, but they could have asked and received a rational explanation.  I recognize that passengers and flight personnel are understandably nervous in today's security climate (I do work with an airline professionally and I don't live in a cave).  But the response to this episode is unacceptable.

This kid wasn't being ostentatious!  He wasn't showing off or shoving it in their face!  And honestly, when someone asks me why "you guys" always throw everything in "our faces" you're revealing a lot more about how accepting, open minded and pluralistic you really are. 

Shouldn't we be embarrassed when we misjudge someone?  Shouldn't we feel small when we miss-label someone based on preconceived notions or fear?  Whether it's religion, race, sexual orientation or anything else that makes us different, shouldn't we feel ashamed of the profiles we wrongly attribute to one another?  And what is it about pluralism that doesn't accept that some of our faiths are practiced differently than others?  I may wear a skullcap, someone else may wear a cross, but neither of us are offended by the other. 

So why is it suddenly socially acceptable for people to blurt out their opinions on how others practice their faith?

We're a diverse country.  We're a wonderful blend of cultures and faith.  Faith for some will be different than for others.  New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world.  I love that I learn something new about a different culture nearly every day.  But if we can't learn to ask someone to explain their differences before leveling accusations, diversity and acceptance are nothing but lip service.

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