Two years ago, in “Too Female for Comfort; or, How a Woman Becomes ‘The Other,’”  Roz Warren told the story of writer Elana Sztokman, who was asked to change her seat on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv simply because she was a woman. Her gender made her male seatmate uncomfortable: “An ultra-religious Orthodox Jew, [he] was so certain that God didn’t want him to sit beside a woman that he demanded a seat change. Other Orthodox men on board took up his cause, and the ensuing brouhaha delayed takeoff until, finally, another seat could be found for him.”
The skies are still unfriendly to women assigned seats next to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, it seems; indeed, the disruptions that ensue are increasing in frequency,  according to The New York Times.
Take the case of 81-year-old Renee Rabinowitz, a retired lawyer and Holocaust survivor. She was seated in her aisle seat in business class on an El Al flight bound from Newark to Tel Aviv when “this rather distinguished-looking man in Hasidic or Haredi garb, I’d guess around 50 or so, shows up.” He had been assigned the window seat next to her, but after he had a brief conversation in Hebrew with the flight attendant (which she did not understand), the attendant offered her a “better seat.” When she moved, however, she discovered that it wasn’t a better seat, and realized why she had been asked to move. Still, she stayed: “I thought, ‘He’s going to be unhappy,’” she recalled. “’There was no other seat available for him next to a man so I thought I’d try it.’”

She is now the plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by a liberal advocacy group, the Israel Religious Action Center, against El Al, charging discrimination. (The airline denies responsibility, saying that discrimination is forbidden on its flights, and that Rabinowitz moved voluntarily.) “Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” Rabinowitz told The New York Times. “For me this is not personal. It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated [she has a Ph.D. in educational psychology, in addition to her law degree], I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?”

Read More at The New York Times.

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  • Moshe Greenberg March 13, 2016 at 3:31 am

    Abigail Congdon – Out of all of the hundreds of comments I’ve seen on this issue over the last couple of weeks all over the internet, yours is the only level-headed, practical, and respectful one. Kudos!

  • Roz Warren March 12, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Thanks for linking to my essay. It’s a shame that this is still an issue.

  • Abigail Congdon March 12, 2016 at 8:15 am

    I feel anyone who does not want to live, travel, or work in the inclusiveness which is one of the goals of the modern world, should live and work in the privately exclusive discriminatory environments of their choice. These ultra conservative gentlemen could create that exclsionary environment for themselves buy purchasing as many seats as needed to travel alone in a row on these flights or on a train. If the purpose of their request were to avoid sitting with a person of another race I bet that request would be denied. Just because this is a ‘ religious’ request does not mean it should be honored. Buy extra seats gentlemen and avoid inconveniencing or possibly embarrassing anyone else.