(JTA) — Agudath Israel of America was honored as a “community partner” by the Transportation Security Administration.
Agudath Israel has advised and educated the TSA and its security personnel in areas of Jewish beliefs, practices, holiday observances and ritual items.
An agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, TSA presented Agudah with the 2016 Community Partnership Award on Tuesday during its annual conference. It is the first time that a Jewish group has been recognized by the agency with the partnership award, Agudah said in a statement.
The award presentation referred to Agudah as a “valued liaison” and a “diligent advocate for the Jewish community,” and noted the organization’s “invaluable service and continuing contributions” to TSA, as well as its role in “ensuring that the traveling public is treated in a fair and lawful manner.”
Areas of cooperation have included efforts to end explicit X-ray imaging of passengers, curb unnecessary or intrusive pat downs, and provide private rooms for searches — as well as the issuing of notices, web postings and field briefings circulated during Jewish holiday travel seasons. They have included instructions to TSA workers to ensure that Jewish travelers can carry the lulav and etrog — a spear-like palm frond and pear-sized citrus fruit — on a plane before and during the Sukkot holiday
Most recently, Agudath Israel developed a “Judaism 101” webinar for TSA personnel to familiarize them with the array of Jewish daily and holiday practices. The webinar pointed out the kinds of problems that might arise at security checkpoints, airports and other locations.
“The TSA has been both receptive and responsive to the manifold concerns of the Jewish community,” Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s vice president for federal affairs and Washington director, said in a statement. “It has truly been a partnership, where both sides work together to find solutions to sometimes complex problems.”