El Al Security Questions: ‘Are these your bags? Did you convert to Judaism? Why?’

When I flew El Al to Israel in July 2000, I volunteered that I had converted to Judaism and I was happy to discuss why I had converted with the El Al security guy in front of all my friends (a Jewish Federation singles mission).

Not everyone is as easy-going and fun-loving as me.

From the Jerusalem Post:

Israeli airport security checks are known for their thoroughness. Answering questions such as, "Did you pack these bags yourself?" or "Did anyone give you anything to carry?" is par for the course.

But a recent VIP traveler was not prepared when an El Al Israel Airways security officer began asking personal questions in full view and earshot of other passengers – questions that seemed to have nothing to do with security.

"So, you converted to Judaism? Why?"

The traveler, one of a group of guests of the Tourism Ministry presently visiting Israel, said he was "shocked and humiliated" by the questions posed to him in front of the ticket counter. It was not clear how the security official even knew about the tourist’s conversion.

"I’ve been coming and going to Israel for more than 20 years and have boarded El Al flights to Israel originating from Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and Istanbul, and I have never experienced any strangeness or difficulties whatsoever," said the tourist, who preferred to remain anonymous.

"At the beginning of my security interview, the young woman acknowledged that she knew I was a guest of the Tourism Ministry and El Al airlines.

"I was in shock and I was humiliated. But I did not know what to do – I did not want to cause a fuss. I was afraid that if I objected to answering the questions about my conversion I would not be allowed on the plane.

"It was deeply humiliating to be forced to disclose the most private aspects of my life and justify it in front of complete strangers and onlookers."

The incident occurred as conversions and converts have come to the forefront of media attention. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of conversions have come under rabbinic scrutiny as a result of a clash between religious Zionist and haredi rabbis.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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