The lesson of the orange

A few years ago while awaiting to board our flight back from Israel to the United States, my wife and I bumped into a friend who gave each of us an orange. It was from her brother’s back yard tree. On the long flight back to Los Angeles my wife enjoyed her fruit, while mine was resting comfortably in the pocket of my jacket. When we landed at LAX awaiting to go through the final line to exit the baggage claim area, a cute little beagle approached me accompanied by a US Customs and Border Protection Officer. Within seconds two other officers joined the canine and immediately asked me to come clean. I had completely forgotten that the orange was in my pocket and that it was considered contraband and not allowed to enter our country from another country. The dog that ratted me out I subsequently learned are among hundreds that specialize in detecting either fruits, meat, hidden animals or some combination of currency, firearms, narcotics, and humans trying to sneak into the US illegally. My wife and I were taken with our luggage to a ‘secure’ area where our luggage was not only put onto a conveyor belt to go through an x-ray machine, but every piece of luggage was then opened and sifted through to insure that no other ‘contraband’ was in our possession. We then were taken to a special desk where our passports were scanned and notations were typed into a computer. I said to my wife after the encounter that we would forever be on our country’s ‘watch’ list.

I thought of that incident when I read the newspaper over the weekend of the hundreds of people who were subjected to interrogation, some even handcuffed and many who were detained for more than 33 hours as a result of our president signing an Executive Order. I was saddened to read about an Iraqi man who was handcuffed and detained at New York’s JFK Airport. He was employed by the United States Government who served for 10 years as an interpreter for our troops in the US Army.

I was saddened to read about an Iranian woman who was scheduled to fly to Boston on Saturday morning to start a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. She was told that she could not board the plane to the United States. And the list goes on and on and on.

Our experience with a piece of fruit at LAX pales in comparison to these individuals and others who have been subjected to such inhumane treatment by our government. While we all wish for our country to be secure and safe, perhaps our new president and his advisers might learn an important lesson going forward. Before you can taste the sweet fruit of an orange, you first have to remove the outer peel.

I hope and pray that before future decisions are made by our president and elected officials which affect us all, that they will be more diligent in removing the layers of potential issues of such decisions that can harm the very fabric of our society.

About the Author
Reuven Taff has served as the rabbi and spiritual leader of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, California since 1995. A trained Hazzan and Educator, he served as Cantor and Educational Director of Beth El Congregation in Phoenix, Arizona and Headmaster of Gesher Jewish Day School of Northern Virginia. He can be contacted at