When a plane made an emergency landing back in January after a teenage boy donned the black Jewish prayer boxes known as tefillin, people across North America treated it as something of a humorous oddity.
But weeks after that incident, a similar case – this time of a 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,” [WTF???] 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.”
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