Rabbi helps TSA understand Jewish needs

Agudath Israel Rabbi receives thanks from US travel administration for making travel for Jewish passengers smoother and with less hassles.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Kastrup Airport (Illustrative)
Kastrup Airport (Illustrative)

The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) honored Rabbi Abba Cohen, Director of Agudath Israel of America’s Washington office, for his “exceptional contribution” in facilitating the quicker and easier screening process the TSA is now utilizing to screen religious Jews.

According to the Jewish Press, the TSA’s assistant administrator for civil rights and liberties, Kimberly Walton, gave Rabbi Cohen a certificate recognizing his assistance to “enhance the traveler experience and ensure the traveling public is treated in a fair and lawful manner by educating the workforce about assisting the Jewish community.”

Agudath Israel of America said Cohen had explained to TSA personnel about Jewish beliefs, practices, holiday observances, and ritual items, and gave them advice on how to “avoid mishaps and misunderstandings involving Jewish travelers.”

Rabbi Cohen has helped TSA in suggesting a number of alternative options to their regular search requirements, as well as explaining why haredi Jews and others have certain issues with the current procedures.

According to the report, the discussion “focused on ways to avoid explicit x-ray imaging of passengers, curbing unnecessary, intrusive pat-downs, providing private rooms for searches, and issuing notices, web-postings and field briefings during Jewish holiday travel seasons.”

Rabbi Cohen has helped the TSA in the recent past avoid some sticky situations and has also helped the organization understand in depth what the religious objects are that Jews carry. The TSA for its art has in turn explained to their workers how to be more sensitive to Jewish travelers.

One example given from Passover 2014 in which the TSA announced to their employees to be extra careful when handling “matzohs" and utilizing a gentle hand search of boxes labeled as such when being held by Jewish passengers, thereby preventing breakage.

Cohen said that both he and Agudath Israel were “pleased and honored” at having received the award.

“Years ago, we would regularly receive calls from members of the community who were distraught over unfortunate incidents,” Cohen said. 

“Security is of utmost concern to the Jewish community and we have worked diligently to develop ‘reasonable accommodations’ that satisfy both government safety regulations and Jewish religious requirements.”‎