It’s not a new story, but sadly, it’s one that has to continue to be told. Many Hasidic Jewish men won’t sit next to a female passenger on the airplane. While not Jewish law, it’s often a sensitivity they have to be sitting so close to someone (and let’s get real, those seats are small) of the opposite gender who they’re not married to.
It can be frustrating when you’re waiting to take off and get settled and someone is trying to get the flight attendant to switch their seat, especially for a reason that may come off as discrimination toward women. (In reality, it’s anything but.)
Still, it’s sad that we have to resort to removing passengers from a plane for a simple request. That’s what happened this New Year’s Eve. Three Orthodox passengers were on a red-eye flight from California to New York. One of them, an elderly man, took what he thought was an open seat, explaining to the flight attendant he couldn’t remain in his assigned seat because of “religious purposes.”
A man, Ron Passaro, offered to switch with him and it seemed like the issue had been resolved. Suddenly, the captain and a security officer appeared in the aisle, telling the Orthodox passengers they have to get off the plane as the crew was “not comfortable” with them on the flight.
The security official can be heard on the audio recording saying: “The captain and crew have made the decision. You’re coming off this plane.” He added that “changing seats is a violation when it comes to weight imbalance. You have to sit in your assigned seats.”
Passaro shared that the weight imbalance argument actually made no sense because the Orthodox passengers in question were, “if anything, svelte.”
While it may be an inconvenience to have passengers moving around on the plane, it’s not out of the ordinary before take off. Passengers often switch seats on their own for various reasons including to be closer to family, if someone prefers a window vs aisle and more.
Rachel Sklar, Passaro’s girlfriend, was also on the flight. She posted about the incident on X (formerly Twitter) in defense of the Orthodox Jews saying it clearly seemed like antisemitism. “The whole thing was really upsetting. It seemed very unnecessary and kind of bewildering,” she said.
She also said she switches seats on occasion if a passenger near her has a cat because she’s allergic. “Flight attendants have a lot of discretion; they can switch people around,” she said. “The weight thing didn’t make any sense.”
In a post-October 7th world, a bright spot is the way Jews have united. This is one example. In the past, not-as-religious Jews may have scoffed at the Hasidic man’s request. In this case, Rachel Sklar not only supported the man and women he was with, but came to his defense publicly.
By posting on X (with more than 56,000 followers) she went to bat for this man and for what she believes to be fair and true.
While much of the world is against us at the moment and things feel bleak, we can rest assured in the fact that so many of us are more united than ever. While it’s sad that such an intense attack was the reason we’ve united, it’s a bright spot in the darkness. If this is something we can keep reminding ourselves, we’re doing alright.
I was on a flight a couple of weeks ago and a Hasidic couple was pushing a baby in a stroller behind me. The baby dropped his bottle and I picked it up and handed it to them. The man hesitated to take it from me and I switched and gave it to the woman directly.
At first, I’ll admit, I was slightly irritated. Even as an Orthodox woman myself I was confused why he couldn’t just take the bottle from me. Then, I reminded myself that he’s doing it for an upstanding reason. Even if it’s not law, it’s a sensitivity to remain closest to his wife and not even take an object from a woman who is not. I reframed my mindset to judge my fellow Jew more favorably in that moment.
If we can try and do that even a little bit more, like Sklar and Passaro did, we’re in a good place.