An 81-year-old woman is suing El Al Airlines after she was forced to move seats to accommodate an Orthodox man during a December flight from Newark to Tel Aviv.
In an interview with the New York Times, Renee Rabinowitz said she was settled in her aisle seat for the long flight to Israel when a Hasidic man assigned to the window seat refused to sit next to her because of Orthodox modesty laws. Rabinowitz, a retired attorney with a Ph.D. in educational psychology who made aliyah ten years ago, said she reluctantly agreed when a flight attendant offered her a “better” seat closer to first class.
”Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” Rabinowitz said. “For me this is not personal, it is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?”
El Al released a statement defending the incident, “El Al flight attendants are on the front line of providing service for the company’s varied array of passengers,” the statement said. “In the cabin, the attendants receive different and varied requests and they try to assist as much as possible, the goal being to have the plane take off on time and for all the passengers to arrive at their destination as scheduled.”
Now the Religious Action Center, which has been looking for a perfect test case to sue El Al for discrimination in just these types of incidents, is going to bat for Rabinowitz. In a letter to El Al, the organization argued “that a request not to be seated next to a woman differed from other requests to move, say, to sit near a relative or a friend, because it was by nature degrading.” They are demanding $13,000 in compensation for Rabinowitz.
Rabinowitz, who has been thinking about the incident, wondered “When did modesty become the sum and end all of being a Jewish woman?”