With a black box strapped to his arm and another to his head, Charles Goldberg stood inside Chabad Center for Jewish Life at Kansas University, where he recited and sang prayers.
It’s a unique tradition Jewish males over the age of 13 are supposed to do every morning.
The local Jewish community is on a mission to educate, after a US Airways Express pilot diverted his jet Thursday morning to Philadelphia when a teen wrapped himself up in straps and began the routine during a flight between New York and Kentucky.
“Understandably, it could cause concern,” said Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, Chabad Center executive director. “It’s got straps, it’s got a box, some people call it the Jewish blood pressure.”
Practicing Jews spend between 5 minutes and 1 hour every morning but Saturday performing the activity, a custom Tiechtel said connects them with God.
“What’s upsetting is that this is a really beautiful, very safe, obviously religious custom and so many people are just afraid of the most simple things,” said Goldberg, 22, a Kansas University senior from Buffalo Grove, Ill. “We really have to overcome ignorance and really, really figure out what people are doing before we start jumping to conclusions.”
Tiechtel was understanding of the flight crew’s suspicion, but said it presents an opportunity to teach the community about the ritual of wearing the unique props, called Tefillin, during their prayer.
“I’m most comfortable we’re overcautious rather than under-cautious,” the rabbi said Friday morning. “As an educator, I feel it’s important people should know what this is all about, so next time they’re on a plane and I’m the one praying, no one throws me off the plane.”
Inside the Tefillin boxes are four compartments where the Jewish men place parchments with special handwriting inside that include the words of the Jewish bible. The tradition is never done at night, is one of three daily prayers and if dropped, requires a 24-hour period of fasting, Tiechtel said.
Chabad Center, 1203 W. 19th St., received several phone calls from people about the religious custom after the incident.
The rabbi said he approaches flight attendants ahead of praying on a flight, so they know what he’s up to. But he sent an e-mail to the 17-year-old who caused the stir, congratulating him for pulling out his props and praying as soon as he could in the morning, as the religion suggests.