Category Archives: News

Incident at Frankfurt

Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline, ended up with sauerkraut on its corporate face recently, after more than 120 visibly Jewish men and women in Frankfurt’s airport on May 4 were banned from boarding their connecting flights. 

Most of the Jewish passengers were heading to Hungary, to visit the burial placeof a revered rabbi, Reb Shayeleh Kerestirer, on the anniversary of his death. They had to scramble to get on flights with other airlines.

In a statement shortly after the incident, the airline claimed that the travelers had been blocked from the flights because, on their earlier flight from New York, they had refused requests to honor the airline’s medical mask requirement. 

Numerous passengers, however, told news outlets that they and the vast majority of Jewish travelers had heeded the mask mandate and had been unfairly grouped together and punished because of a small number of rule-violators.

Holding anyone who happened to look Jewish accountable for the infraction of a few was, obviously, well… Problematik.

Exacerbating things was one of several videos disseminated by Dan’s Deals, an air travel website, that went viral schnell. In it, after an irate passenger heatedly protested the collective punishment, a Lufthansa supervisor blurted out that it had been “Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.”

Lufthansa found itself in quite a Kuddlemuddle.

Many were upset by the accounts and videos. Agudath Israel executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel wrote a letter to Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr the following Monday asking that he research the “disturbing accounts” about the flight, which indicated that “People were being punished simply because they shared ethnicity and religion with the alleged rule violators.”

The next day, Lufthansa said that it “regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude the affected passengers from the flight.” “We apologize to all the passengers unable to travel on this flight,” the airline added, “not only for the inconvenience, but also for the offense caused and personal impact.”

“What transpired,” it continued, “is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, antisemitism and discrimination of any type.

“We will be engaging with the affected passengers to better understand their concerns and openly discuss how we may improve our customer service.”

While an apology was certainly warranted, many were less-than-impressed with this one. Yad Vashem director Dani Dayan, the ADL and the Agudah were among the disappointed.

They, variously, made the points that regretting the “circumstances surrounding the decision” was not the same as regretting the decision; that no reference was made to the remark about how “Jewish people… were the mess”; that passengers’ “concerns” were blatantly obvious, namely, that they were targeted for mistreatment only because they are Jews; and that focus should be trained not on “how [Lufthansa] may improve its customer service” but rather on the egregious nature of what transpired and on steps Lufthansa will take to make sure that such incidents never occur again.

In the wake of those complaints, on the 11th, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr personally apologized for the incident in a video call to the rabbi of Berlin, Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal.

“Antisemitism has no place in Lufthansa,” Mr. Spohr told the rabbi. “What happened should not have happened. Our company represents a connection between people, cultures, and nations. Openness and tolerance are the cornerstones and there is no room for antisemitism.”

Rabbi Teichtal subsequently told Dan’s Deals that the CEO’s apology sounded genuine and that he was told that the employees involved in the incident have been suspended, pending an investigation.

There is much to unpack from the incident. Firstly, despite the airline workers’ indefensible actions, if in fact there were any passengers who were asked to mask and refused, they were not only wrong but the ultimate cause of what all the other affected passengers had to endure.

Secondly, is angrily badgering a person, like what evoked the “Jewish people who were the mess” comment, the Jewish way to deal with even an unconscionable decision? Would the Chofetz Chaim have indignantly berated an airline employee? Yes, the indignation brought forth an ugly response. But scratch many a person enough (let aside a German) and you’ll strike antisemitic sentiments. But is such scratching a mitzvah? Or proper?

Thirdly, and more happily, I was struck by a snippet of one video taken at the time. It was of a group of heavily-armed German police standing at the ready. From somewhere in the crowd of irate passengers flew a crude accusation: “Nazis!”

The policeman in charge positively simmered and then stepped forward. “Who was it?” he asked. And then, when there was no response, he raised his voice: “WHO WAS IT? WHO SAID THAT?”

No one came forward to claim the slur.

But the officer clearly considered it deeply insulting. 

(c) 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Gaffe Track

It’s become increasingly common for some observers to question President Biden’s mental acuity. A recent struggle the president had with pronouncing a word brought an inordinate amount of criticism.

My take on the hand-wringing (and worse) can be read here.

Empathy and History

We should all feel outrage at the Russian onslaught against Ukraine and sympathy for the beleaguered innocent citizens under attack. But letting those proper feelings obscure history is the opposite of proper. Heartfelt feelings, yes; falsified facts, no.

To read what I mean, please click here .

Too Many American Jews Still Believe Putin-style Lies

A piece I wrote about how Vladimir Putin’s transparent lies, recognized as such by most Americans, should sensitize all of us to the lies that have been swallowed on the domestic front by all too many of us. It can be read here.

If your access to the Haaretz site is blocked, you can send a request for a PDF of the article to [email protected] .

Comical Comparison

Have you read about how Ukrainians in Russia have planted bombs in public places, how they terrorize and murder Russian civilians, jumping unsuspecting Muscovites and viciously stabbing them? How they preach hatred for all Russians? How they declare their wish to push them all into the Arctic Ocean?

No? Well, that’s probably because, needless to say, nothing of the sort is remotely true.

And not all Molotov Cocktails are alike.

To read what I mean, please click here.

Diversity in the Court!

A sour taste was left in some mouths back in January, after Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement from the Court and President Biden pledged to nominate a black woman to assume his seat.

Personally, I don’t care if the president sought a Samoan-born, hard of hearing, left-handed candidate to further diversify the Court. As long as the requisite credentials and talents were there, fine with me.

So, does Ketanji Brown Jackson, the president’s nominee, have what it takes to be a High Court judge?

My thoughts on the matter are here.

The Right to Not Speak

The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t only prohibit government from preventing what we choose to say; it also prohibits its forcing a citizen to say what he doesn’t want to say. And a case that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall — one with repercussions for some businesses in the Orthodox Jewish community — revolves around that concept.

To read about the case and the concept, please click here: