On a full El Al plane to New York, I had just gotten settled in my hard-won aisle seat when two Hasidic men, one visually impaired, approached my row. The other, who was clearly looking out for both of them, glanced toward the two empty seats next to me with apparent dismay.
He double-checked that those were indeed their seats, and right away asked a man in a nearby aisle of the middle section if he would switch with me, which he consented to do. I felt bad, but I really prefer the window section, even if I’m in an aisle seat so I declined to move.
I realized that they probably needed to remain together so one could help the other, but I was not stopping them from sitting in the two perfectly available seats next to me and did not wish to inconvenience myself.
He accepted my response politely and went and found a gentleman a few rows back in an equivalent seat to my own, who was also willing to move. He then asked me again. I agreed immediately and moved.
Our little “musical chairs” was accomplished calmly and efficiently. A passenger in a nearby seat got up and kindly switched the places of both our overhead bags, mine and the gentleman’s, to be closer to our new seats. Everything was done respectfully and without undue inconvenience or resentment.
There are plenty of people with plenty of reasons for the things that they do. We may or may not like everything. Personally, I am very uncomfortable with over-segregation of women in the religious sector. But if no one is inconvenienced, and everyone is respectful — and respected — why not make that little effort so that everyone is comfortable?
If I got on a bus and were asked to sit in the back, I would NOT be so nice. The situation on the plane was different. I extended the same courtesy that I would have extended to anyone asking to switch seats for any reason. Frankly, the reason doesn’t involve or interest me at all, nor was it ever mentioned. I had a choice and I only acquiesced when it truly didn’t affect me at all.
Further, I was actually very happy to sit with two delightful young women who were equally happy to sit with me, rather than sitting with two men who would have felt uncomfortable throughout. Interesting to note that one of the women was also asked to switch her seat, for a reason that had nothing to do with women or Haredim…
The experience let me see this hot-topic issue through different eyes. Mind you, I will still fight for women’s rights in the religious sector — or anywhere. But one of those “rights” isn’t the right to sit next to men on a plane. Unless it’s your family member and you’re forcibly made to sit apart for “religious reasons.”
But this? This was simply an opportunity to do a nice thing for a fellow passenger that hurt no one and made a lot of people smile. To me, that’s a win.