Yesterday, my husband, who’s shopping for a good pre-Passover fare to the States, told me of an Orthodox travel agent (probably not the only one) who won’t sell anyone an itinerary any part of which will compel the passenger to travel on the Sabbath. This of course raised my “parochialism-versus-civil-society” antenna. The following conversation ensued:
Me: How does he know you’re Jewish? The only document you're required to show him is your passport. Your religion isn’t listed on your passport [yet! Stay tuned…].
Him: Well, Plony Almony [acquaintance whose surname is typically Jewish] went to him, and he refused her.
Me: So he’s just assuming she’s Jewish because of her name. He has no actual proof.
So not only is Travel Agent claiming to be able to ascertain his clients’ ethnicity, but of course the real test would be if someone named Muhammed Abu-Salaam walked in and asked for a Shabbes-violating itinerary. If he is sold his ticket, then we have proof that Travel Agent is actually refusing service to certain customers (Jews, according to his own Jewish-o-meter) on the basis of their religion, which I presume to be illegal.
While I don’t have time to test this case, I believe it’s worth bringing to readers’ attention in order to illustrate what a Chelm we’ve created here on the decidedly flimsy basis of something called the “Jewish character of the state”. Not only is this “Jewish character” vague and doesn’t stand up to any Western standards of due process, but it derives from an unsophisticated, Hebrew school-level perception of Israel as a place where Jewish visitors ooh and aah over the taxi driver telling them “Shabbat shalom”…and isn’t it just adorable that the travel agent won’t sell you a ticket for a plane that takes off on Shabbes?!
By now, we as a modern Western country should have advanced past the rapture stage of a summer teen tour participant walking down Ben-Yehuda mall on a first-time-in-Israel Temple Mount High murmuring in stoned wonder, “Far out! Everyone here’s Jewish!” Because to do so is to remain in a state of national arrested development.
It’s time we grew up and faced the challenging, complex, not-as-much-fun-for-the-majority reality that we’re not all Jewish: That fully 25% of us have needs and desires, for instance, the need or desire to travel on the Jewish Sabbath, whether to visit a relative in another town or another country; or to purchase goods on the Jewish Sabbath. And those 25% (plus a large chunk of the other 75%) should not be constrained by the Jewish Sabbath.
It’s time we let go of our fear of losing our “blankie” that we call the state’s “Jewish character”: We’re grownups now; time to put aside our childhood security objects and face life as mature, adult citizens of a democracy.