Friday, May 25, 2012

Accidental (In)Equality: Two Scenes from Transit

Scene: El Al flight 001, en route to New York, approximately 3:30am local time at destination, somewhere miles above the most northeasterly reaches of Canada. An Orthodox man walks up and down the aisle of the Boeing 747, offering to let other passengers put on his phylacteries and recite morning prayers.

Orthodox man: Tefilin?
Me: No.
Orthodox man: Are you Jewish?
Me: Yes, but this is not my custom.
Orthodox man: Oh. You are a girl.

First thought: I can't believe an Orthodox man is suggesting I put on tefilin. Second thought: My hair is short, but come on. Third thought: If only egalitarianism and religious pluralism could be solved by short haircuts for all...


Scene: United States Customs and Border Protection Station, John F. Kennedy International Airport, 7am

Officer O'Gara: Where are you coming from?
Me: Israel
Officer O'Gara: You just put a one on this form. One is  a number. You have to write Israel.
Me: It's an "I." I must have gotten distracted and not finished the word.
Officer O'Gara: I know you people think Israel is number one, but you have to write the name of the country.

First thought: Mustn't argue. Don't want to be detained, especially not with all the Arabic books in my suitcase and backpack. Second thought: Really? I've been awake for going on thirty hours, the last twelve of which were spent in a flying sardine tin of doom and the twelve-plus before that were spent giving a very dense paper on medieval philosophy and attempting to impress colleagues in I've lost track of how many languages, and your mind runs first to the old Jews-are-a-fifth-column-in-America canard? Next time, a "welcome home" would suffice.

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