Jewish Teenager’s Prayer Diverts a Plane

From The Philadelphia Jewish Voice
From The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

No one was surprised it happened, everybody remained calm and polite — including, apparently, the two teenagers when they were briefly handcuffed — all aboard were safe. Still it’s a little sad when a young airline passenger in prayer sets off alarm bells in our spacious American skies.

The 17-year-old observant Jewish passenger, seated next to his younger sister, was strapping a tefillin onto his wrist and his head, figuring to take advantage of the quiet time for ritual prayer. It was a small plane outbound from La Guardia Airport and about 25 minutes into a flight to Kentucky. The flight attendant on US Airways Express Flight 3079 last Thursday thought the tefillin looked ominously like wires or cables.

And in a time when in-flight thinking is colored by the brutal knowledge that passengers have hidden bombs in underwear or shoes, she told the officers in the cockpit. The pilot decided to divert the Kentucky-bound plane to Philadelphia. In less than 30 minutes it was on the ground, police officers were swarming through the passenger cabin, and the Transportation Security Administration was using terms like “disruptive passenger” and “suspicious passenger” to describe the boy. An hour or so after that, Lt. Frank Vanore, a spokesman for the Philadelphia police, had another explanation.

“It was unfamiliarity that caused this,” he said.

He said the flight crew had never seen tefillin, small leather boxes attached to leather straps that observant Jews wear during morning prayers. The flight crew “didn’t understand what it was,” he said, and the pilot “erred on the side of caution and decided to radio that in and to divert the flight.”

We can’t all recognize a tefillin, or appreciate head scarves, or somehow get comfortable with the accoutrements of unfamiliar religions. But this incident suggests we might need to try harder.

The young man and his sister, whose names were not released, are from White Plains, the authorities said. Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg of Young Israel of White Plains said that they were members of his congregation and that the young man was “a good boy, bright, intelligent, as docile as you can imagine.” Some observant Jews said they were not surprised that the ritual had attracted attention — or that people on the plane would have been unfamiliar with it. “When they see a passenger strapping yourself,” said Isaac Abraham, a Satmar who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and campaigned for the Democratic nomination for a City Council seat last year, “you might as well strap yourself with hand grenades. They have no idea. He probably just figured, ‘I have nothing else to do on the plane, I might as well use this time to pray.’ Other people read. They watch a movie. He figured, ‘Let me grab the time.’ But the obvious reality of it is that when we see people carrying explosive material in their shoes and their pants and I am the passenger next to him and see someone strapping, I would panic too.”

And most of the rest of us would say the same. Maybe most of the rest of us, though, could take some time to check out interfaith groups such the International Association for Religious Freedom or United Religions Initiative, or local organizations such as the San Francisco Interfaith Council (local interfaith groups exist throughout the country), which offer a chance to learn about other faiths and get to know the mostly peace-loving people who follow other traditions. In all probability, there will be times ahead when some badly-misled person will shout “Allahu Akbar” before blowing himself or herself to smithereens, or some deranged person will commit violence (witness the killer of abortion Dr. George Tiller claiming his religious convictions justified the act) in the name of some abused diety. But a little interfaith understanding could go a long way in today’s super-suspicious world.

Rabbi Greenberg, the boy’s rabbi, had some advice for future flights.

“I would suggest, pray on the plane and put the tefillin on later on,” he said.

Jewish Teenager’s Tefillin Diverts a US Airways Flight – NYTimes.com.

Walking while cellphoning can be hazardous to your health

Having raged and ranted about phoning/texting drivers and pedestrian-oblivious bikers, this space would now like to come to the defense of cellphoning walkers. Not, you understand, multi-tasking/app-studying cellphoning walkers, but talking walkers. Noting the attention that has recently focused on the hazards of distracted drivers, New York Times writer Matt Richtel reports on the new hazard:

But there is another growing problem caused by lower-stakes multitasking — distracted walking — which combines a pedestrian, an electronic device and an unseen crack in the sidewalk, the pole of a stop sign, a toy left on the living room floor or a parked (or sometimes moving) car.

The era of the mobile gadget is making mobility that much more perilous, particularly on crowded streets and in downtown areas where multiple multitaskers veer and swerve and walk to the beat of their own devices.

Most times, the mishaps for a distracted walker are minor, like the lightly dinged head and broken fingernail, a jammed digit or a sprained ankle, and, the befallen say, a nasty case of hurt pride. Of course, the injuries can sometimes be serious — and they are on the rise.

Slightly more than 1,000 pedestrians visited emergency rooms in 2008 because they got distracted and tripped, fell or ran into something while using a cellphone to talk or text. That was twice the number from 2007, which had nearly doubled from 2006, according to a study conducted by Ohio State University, which says it is the first to estimate such accidents.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Jack L. Nasar, a professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State, noting that the number of mishaps is probably much higher considering that most of the injuries are not severe enough to require a hospital visit. What is more, he said, texting is rising sharply and devices like the iPhone have thousands of new, engaging applications to preoccupy phone users.

There is the problem, it’s the apps. It is a solvable problem. Just as it is possible, without inviting death and destruction, to talk to a (non-distracting) passenger while driving a car, it is entirely possible to talk on a cellphone while walking. Many who have managed to do so without winding up in emergency rooms have the solution: don’t be accessing travel agencies and restaurant menus, just talk. Furthermore, do not give your cellphone number to anybody but your children and a few very good friends. They do not create angst while you are walking/talking, and will also understand that you turn the thing off when you get home. Anybody else can darn well call the land line and leave a message. The fact that addiction to electronic wizardry and perpetually multi-tasking with it is a fairly recent phenomenon probably explains another interesting discovery:

Mr. Nasar supervised the statistical analysis, which was done by Derek Troyer, one of his graduate students. He looked at records of emergency room visits compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Examples of such (hospital) visits include a 16-year-old boy who walked into a telephone pole while texting and suffered a concussion; a 28-year-old man who tripped and fractured a finger on the hand gripping his cellphone; and a 68-year-old man who fell off the porch while talking on a cellphone, spraining a thumb and an ankle and causing dizziness.

Young people injured themselves more often. About half the visits Mr. Troyer studied were by people under 30, and a quarter were 16 to 20 years old. But more than a quarter of those injured were 41 to 60 years old.

Over 60? Except for the unfortunate gentleman strolling off his porch, we don’t event merit inclusion in the data. This may add up to one benefit of being too old to deal with the technological wonders of cellphone apps, and tending to use the cellphone as a phone. The Times article, highly recommended reading for all ages, is full of interesting factoids and neurological rationale. But much still boils down to the old can’t-walk-and-chew-gum adage.

“Walking and chewing are repetitive, well-practiced tasks that become automatic,” Dr. Gazzaley (Adam Gazzaley, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco) said. “They don’t compete for resources like texting and walking.”

Further, he said, the cellphone gives people a constant opportunity to pursue goals that feel more important than walking down the street.

“An animal would never walk into a pole,” he said, noting survival instincts would trump other priorities.

There could be a message here. Perhaps it is that the goal, or at least the top priority, of walking down the street should be to get to your destination in one piece. If you skip the apps and keep your eyes open for texting drivers at cross streets, it is entirely possible for someone of any age to accomplish this task — while talking on the cellphone.

Driven to Distraction – Pedestrians, Too, Are Distracted by Cellphones – Series – NYTimes.com.

Facebook parenting — God help us

At the risk of sounding like a grandmother, which I quintupitally am, I have to say I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past several days being thankful I’m not raising any teenagers. This is thanks to the story of Tess of the d’Overmuch and her Facebook quest for relief from being grounded. If you’ve missed this exciting adventure, Susan Dominus summarizes it in today’s New York Times:

They feel her pain. At the Spence School and Greenwich High and Fullerton Union High and Nyack High and Narragansett High, teenagers and near-teenagers, hundreds of them, are waving a virtual flag for Tess Chapin, a 15-year-old from Sunnyside, Queens, who has been grounded for five weeks. A few days after founding the Facebook group — “1000 to get tess ungrounded” — Tess had nearly reached her stated goal, with 806 members by Friday morning; after this column about her quest was posted on nytimes.com, she surpassed it.

This is teenage rebellion, electronic style — peaceful, organized and, apparently, contagious.

So basically, Tess explains on her group page, she made an honest late-night mistake. Her parents flipped, and they grounded her for five weeks — “thats my childhood right there,” she wrote. “please join so I can convince them to unground me. please please please.”

Interesting she should mention childhood. Tess’ groundation, as she terms it, occurred after an honest late-night mistake involving drinking booze and missing a curfew, behaviors that are wisely left until childhood is past, which her parents, if not her friends, understand. To their everlasting credit — and bless their hearts for having to raise what must be a bright and feisty daughter in such a public arena — they seem thus far disinclined to let Facebook group rule.

If your parents didn’t care,” pointed out a sophomore at Ithaca College, “they would have just let you rot.” Someone agreed with Tess that “parents can be stupid.” A friend of a friend expressed hope that she and her parents would take something “grand” away from the experience. A close pal chimed in, “I love you, but your parents are not gonna unground you for convincing 1,000 people to join a group.”

It is to this last theory that Ms. Iselin Chapin (mom Jennifer Iselin Chapin, a fund-raiser for the Natural Resources Defense Council) subscribes.

“What’s your fallback strategy?” she asked her daughter Thursday night, sitting across from her in the living room of their two-bedroom apartment in Sunnyside.

“O.K., one: drive you so crazy that you’re going to unground me,” Tess replied.

Her mother shook her head. “That’s not going to do it, sweetheart.”

Times writer Dominus suggested early on that perhaps another group might be started in support of “Parents Who Believe in Consequences for Serious Lapses in Judgment and Care Enough About Their Kids to Enforce the Rules,” and reported that within an hour a Times Online reader had done just that. And bless that reader’s heart, too.

I think raising kids in the relative obscurity of pre-internet times was infinitely easier and surely effective, for proof of which I offer three excellent grown children, parents of three flawless teenagers and — in the case of son and daughter-in-law who deserve an extra blessing of hearts — two gorgeous girls who won’t be teenagers for another 6 or 8 years.

My eldest granddaughter came across the country to enter college last fall, offering joy and a learning experience to her creaky left coast grandparents. We are diligently learning about what 19-year-old college art students create, wear, enjoy and pierce. She is extraordinarily grounded and gifted and fast approaching the end of child/teenagehood — though she did exemplify the complexities of it all when assuring her mother she was not homesick while asking that she (the mom) please not talk about the dogs.

I have conceded that most of today’s teenagers will miss the pleasure of things like thank-you notes (they don’t write, they Facebook and they text,) and think it’s just as well my own college art major was in the dark ages. We did life drawing and paintings of little arrangements of bottles and fruits for starters. The college art life today is tough. My granddaughter took us on a walking tour of her dorm and its collection of depictions of violence and terrors, which prompted me to remark that there is so much angst in today’s art.

“Well, Gran,” she said with a note of weary indulgence, “we ARE teenagers.”

Big City – Teenager Taps Facebook to Protest a Punishment From Her Parents – NYTimes.com.

Texting while driving kills, at any age

I had an e-mail just now from a friend who read the story, below, of my granddaughter’s accident earlier today. “You missed the point,” he said. (Why can’t I get him to register, and say this on the T/S site?) “The point is that distracted drivers total cars, distracted drivers kill. No matter how old they are.”

It’s true.

As a pedestrian, which I usually am since who wants to drive in a city like San Francisco, I have had more brushes with death from distracted drivers than I like to think about. They are talking on their phones, eating hamburgers, applying make-up, texting friends, day-dreaming, just not paying any attention to the person stepping into the street with the green light and the right-of-way. And yes, they are not all teenagers.

As a driver, if another distracted driver is in your area you can’t often jump back onto the sidewalk and survive.

We all know this, that distracted drivers kill. The knowledge doesn’t stop us. As my granddaughter says, “Everybody does it.”

The perils of parenting… and iPods… and texting while driving…

My granddaughter’s birthday is today. She’s 19. A gifted art student, a remarkably grounded, neat kid. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this afternoon she totaled her car.

The further good news is that she’s okay, and she didn’t hurt anyone else. But it was her fault. I understand the music was playing customarily loud; I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she had been texting a friend.

The really bad news is that I don’t imagine either of the above behaviors will change.

In 2008, the latest year for which a lot of data has been collected and digested, some 3,500 teens between the ages of 15 and 19 died in car wrecks. About 10 times that many wound up in emergency rooms, but survived. The 15 to 24 age group accounts for 14% of the population, but it accounted for 30% of the costs of motor vehicle injuries ($19 billion) among males, and 28% ($7 billion) among females. Nobody knows how many of the young drivers causing those accidents were texting their friends at the time — cell phones tend to fly out the window, although many of them have survived to incriminate people who murdered other people during casual conversation. There’s a very popular YouTube video that ought to cure you; my granddaughter has seen it.

A few months ago I was driving my granddaughter to catch the BART train back to campus, fairly late one night, when I committed a minor traffic violation under the immediate gaze of a San Francisco policewoman. During the interminable length of time it took for the policewoman to sit in her car studying her computer I did a lot of beating on the steering wheel, ranting about how this would ruin our insurance, how I hadn’t had a ticket in decades, how furious I was with myself for a dumb move. Eventually the policewoman returned, congratulated me on my excellent driving record, and said, “I’m going to give you a break this time, Ms. Johns…” and my granddaughter and I exhaled.

For the next few minutes we talked about my driving record. I said at least some of it has to relate to the fact that I do not talk on the phone while driving and I do not text while driving, and I like soft music (actually, I don’t think I mentioned the music business.) Those, however, are not dots one is interested in connecting if one is 18 years old… or any age, probably, coming from a little-old-lady driver who just got off lucky.

My greatly beloved granddaughter said she often texts while driving. “Everybody does,” she said.

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