Unfriendly skies

Woman, 81, is suing Israel’s national airline for sexism over seat change

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Renee Rabinowitz (Uriel Sinai/The New York Times)

For a couple of years now, a growing problem often on flights between the U.S. and Israel has been the issue of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to a woman. Their refusals, because even the slightest incidental contact with a woman is prohibited under a strict interpretation of religious law, often trigger arguments and an awkward game of musical chairs that disrupts or delays a flight. Some women put up a fight, others often choose the path of least resistance and change seats. One of those women who reluctantly chose the path of least resistance during an El Al flight last year from Newark, New Jersey, to Tel Aviv, Israel’s national carrier, is 81-year-old Renee Rabinowitz. “Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” Rabinowitz told The New York Times in an interview of the experience. And so long after her flight had landed, she’s decided to put up a fight and sue the airline for sexism. “For me this is not personal,” Rabinowitz said of the decision to pursue the legal matter. “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?”

Indeed, Rabinowitz’s life story is one of accomplishment, to say the least. She escaped the Nazis as a child, went on to become a prestigious attorney and earned a Ph.D. in educational psychology. Her decision to sue the airline was bolstered by the support of a liberal advocacy group, Israel Religious Action Center, that’s taken up the case on her behalf. Courtroom proceedings are scheduled to begin next week and the group’s spokesperson says that a key component of the case will be finding an El Al flight attendant to testify in the case about women being asked to change seats, which, the spokesperson argued, would prove that the sexism is systemic within the airline’s culture. For its part, El Al denies any wrongdoing, saying in a statement that “any discrimination between passengers is strictly prohibited” on the airline’s flights.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

Related:

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Gym for ultra-Orthodox Jewish women in Israel systematically attacked by locals

Some men are refusing to sit next to women on airplanes

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