Rabbi Detained at U.S. Border Over Tefillin


tefillinA super-vigilant passerby sounding an alarm among U.S. border officials led to the detaining of a rabbi and his Jewish driver as they tried to return to New York from Canada.

It was just before sunset when Rabbi Eli Silberstein, director of the Roitman Chabad-Lubavitch Center serving Cornell University in Ithaca, suggested, as he had done time and time before, that his driver, Ken Kaplan, don tefillin while it was still daytime.

The two men, who were heading to Montreal, stopped at a gas station in Watertown just before crossing the border.

“He likes me to put on tefillin, because I drive him all over the place,” said Kaplan, who has driven Silberstein for four years. Besides for the religious requirement, “it’s good luck.”

The pair got out, Kaplan popped the truck, and soon the rabbi was helping the driver wrap one of the box’s leather straps around his arm.

No sooner had they finished that a person approached the car.

“It was right after I put the tefillin back in the trunk that someone came up to us and said, ‘You can’t leave now, I need to talk to you,’ ” recalled Silberstein. “He was so suspicious of what we had been doing that he took our license plate number.”

They tried to explain and Kaplan drove off. At the border, Canadian officials inspected the car and, finding nothing suspicious, waved them through.

“When we got to Montreal, I got a call from my wife saying that the police in Watertown were searching for us, and that we were under suspicion for trafficking babies across the border,” said Kaplan. “The guy in the gas station saw us standing over the trunk with the straps and assumed that we were doing something criminal.”

On their return, Kaplan and Silberstein were held up for hours as more than a dozen officers combed through the vehicle.

They managed to keep their sense of humor about it.

“I was so annoyed to be detained like that, we were there until 3:00 in the morning,” said Kaplan. “But it was funny. I was laughing during the whole thing. I guess life can’t be boring.”

{Collive/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Why do people make a chilul hashem for no apparent reason for nothing more then shtusim wat does good luck have to with tfilin?

  2. Ben Azzai,

    Ever been in Watertown? I used to go up there as a mashgiach. There are people there who have never seen a Jew. They used to look for horns on my head!

  3. Can commentator #1 elaborate on what he means about “making a chilul hashem for no apparent reason” is he making the comment simply because the person in question is a chabad rabbi. if this would have been anyone else travelling on the road and davening would he feel the same way?