Along with thousands of Jewish households, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is getting ready for Pesach.
In preparation for the holiday, the federal agency has issued a public notice on its webpage, as well as a briefing document for its field personnel located at airports nationwide. These communications inform TSA officials as to the dates of the Pesach “travel period” and alert them to the expected increase in the volume of Jewish holiday travelers during this time. The materials also apprise both the public and airport personnel of the “unique items” individuals may carry, and the “unique religious practices” individuals may engage in, while traveling.
The issuance of the public notice and personnel briefing is becoming a regular procedure before both Pesach and Succos, which are included in the TSA events calendar as “Significant Travel Days.”
“For many years, we would receive numerous phone calls from distraught Jewish passengers who encountered various difficulties during travel, particularly around the holidays,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s Washington Representative, who has worked closely with the TSA in developing and issuing the guidelines. “Now, there is greater awareness and knowledge, and less apprehension and anxiety, in regard to Jewish religious items and practices. This is extraordinarily important in regard to post-9/11 air travel.”
Among other things, the TSA documents make reference to “prayer rituals” and to “reading religious texts.” They also discuss the wearing of a “kippah, tallit, and tefillin.” Personnel are instructed to be respectful of religious items and practices.
For Pesach, the TSA specifically advises that some travelers might be carrying boxes of matzohs, which can break easily, but must remain whole for ritual purposes. It further instructs that matzoh must not come into contact with foods or substances that are unfit for Passover use. The guidance concludes that, as a religious item, matzoh should be handled with the utmost respect and care. If requested by the passenger, TSA will perform a hand inspection of matzoh and other religious items.
Rabbi Cohen concluded, “We have no doubt that TSA’s efforts to educate the public and its personnel on religious issues will go far in avoiding misunderstandings and mishaps. The agency has been deeply sensitive to our community’s needs and concerns on this and many issues. We extend our profound thanks.”