Friday, June 29, 2018
Praying for Equality
On a couple of my trips to Israel a leg of the journey was on El Al, the Israeli state airline. There are a couple of memories from those experiences. One, that security was so thorough all of us felt guilty of some crime even though we were as virtuous and unthreatening as could be -- and that was in the days before 911. The second was that Orthodox Jewish men went to an area of the aircraft to pray with the nodding rhythm of their tradition. It was both odd and captivating that they were so devoted, not to mention the willingness of El Al to accommodate them in this prayer practice.
There was an announcement this week that the airline will no longer be so accommodating with another expectation of Orthodox men. For years El Al has dealt with the insistence that these men not sit next to women they didn't know on flights. Women were asked to change seats, and we can imagine the inconvenience for other passengers and the annoyance of those women and men who don't adhere to these religious practices or any other, for that matter. El Al says it will no longer facilitate discrimination and that “Any passengers refusing to sit next to other passengers will immediately be removed from the aircraft.”
This didn't come about because El Al saw the light about gender equality. The software development giant NICE is situated in Israel and recently informed the airline they would no longer fly with it if the policy wasn't changed. Apparently the economic benefits of serving business outweighed religion in this case. Still, it was a good decision.
Praise Yahweh that gender-based religious discrimination is being challenged wherever it persists. This will be a long slow process, to be sure, but we can pray anywhere we are that it will continue.