In January, an Orthodox couple and their nineteen-month daughter were kicked off an American Airlines flight, without a chance to collect their luggage or their child’s stroller, on the grounds that they were causing a foul odor. The two have publicly complained that they were targeted, unfairly, due to their religion. While admitting that it is impossible to determine with any certainty how the family smelled, Wendy Shalit believes their claims of anti-Semitism to be entirely credible. And there is no doubt that the incident aroused anti-Semitism:
Out of thousands of comments on this story on Yahoo News, not one questioned the report. . . . “I have experienced these types of people,” one reader said; “from that pic, I’d say they’re one of those couples who believes in the ‘natural’ approach to personal hygiene,” said another. The only thing obvious about the couple from pictures was that they were Orthodox Jews. Others were less philosophical: “It’s called SOAP, use it!” Or, only slightly more offensively, “It should mean holocaust!!” . . .
[Moreover], I’ve had my own experience of this kind. Fourteen years ago, my husband and I and our infant son were on our way to Las Vegas for a family reunion when United Airlines tried to boot us off the flight. The trouble began with an impassive gate agent who didn’t want to let us pre-board with our baby’s car seat. . . . “They think they’re special!” a man near us declared. . . . When we finally boarded with everyone else, the [same] man wasn’t done with us: he jabbed my husband in the back with his elbow as we turned to put our suitcases overhead. My husband whipped around, only to see our nemesis leaping to seat himself two rows in front of us.
Soon our assailant was gesturing wildly to the flight attendant in our direction. The flight attendant then paid us a visit to let us know that our place on the flight was not to be taken for granted, as “other passengers are complaining about the smell.” Another flight attendant approached, coolly explaining that we would “simply have to de-plane.” . . .
My husband and son now wear baseball caps over their yarmulkes whenever they fly, and they’ve never been accused of smelling since. A coincidence? Maybe. Or, if observant Jews being identifiable as such are more likely to be targets, then they would be less likely to be targeted if not immediately recognizable as Jewish.