“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me in America,” said Roberto Birman, who was ejected from the flight after refusing to place a Jewish holy object on the floor of the airplane.
By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News
A Jewish couple is suing American Airlines for damages, after they said they were kicked off a flight for refusing to store the husband’s bag containing Tefillin (phylacteries) on the floor of the aircraft.
Roberto and Elana Birman, residents of Brooklyn originally from Argentina, said they were the victims of religious discrimination by the airline in an interview with the New York Post.
Seated on an aircraft in Miami which was set to depart for New York, the Birmans said that a flight attendant conducting an overhead storage bin check before take-off had spotted the Tefillin bag and demanded it be stored on the floor under his seat.
Roberto Birman, 76, told the flight attendant that “it’s a religious item, it cannot go under the seat.” Birman said the flight attendant snapped “it doesn’t matter” and became aggressive, screaming at him and “pointing her finger.”
“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me in America,” he said, adding that “We use these items every single day to pray.”
Elana Birman, 71, said the request was equivalent to asking a devout Christian to throw a cross on the floor,” and noted her disappointment that none of her fellow passengers intervened on their behalf.
“Nobody said a word. Nobody defended us. It was embarrassing,” she said.
The Birmans said that the pilot entered the cabin but did not speak to them. Rather, a ground crew member asked them to follow him off the plane.
The Birmans did so, without realizing that they had been ejected from the flight. As soon as they’d left the plane, they heard a flight attendant call for someone to “close the gate,” and the couple were unable to reboard. Checked baggage belonging to the Birmans, including critical diabetes medication, was flown through to their destination.
Left without lodging or an alternate flight as a hurricane rolled into Florida, the couple had to stay the night with a friend in Florida.
“My clients were ejected from the flight based on the prejudices and complete lack of sensitivity of American Airlines employees for reasons wholly unrelated to security,” the Birmans’ lawyer, Brad Gerstman, told the Post.
“The flight attendant and pilot’s conduct was as offensive as it was illogical.”
Elana Birman said the couple were “devastated” by being treated like criminals by the air crew, for simply objecting to placing a holy object on the floor of the aircraft.
Ejecting the couple from the flight and berating them in front of the entire plane “was out of proportion,” Roberto Birman said.
The flight attendant was so confrontational, Birman added, “I was shaking.”