The first time I ever saw tefillin, I was in an airport (my memory is that it was Laguardia, but it doesn’t make sense why I would have been there at that time, so that part of the memory might be wrong) and our plane was severely delayed. I must have been somewhere between 10 and 13, and I was bored stiff stuck in this airport, and I saw this man standing by the window doing the strangest thing - wrapping these black strappy contraptions around his head and arm and mumbling to himself and perhaps rocking back and forth, though I may be inserting that last part into the memory retroactively. I suppose it must have been his kippa that tipped me off to the fact that he was Jewish; I had never seen an Orthodox Jew before, and I had never seen so much as a picture or a drawing of tefillin - the only reason I knew such a thing hypothetically existed or at least had existed at some point was because we had gone over the (mediocre English translation of) (the Reform movement’s truncated version of) Shema in a very general way in Hebrew school a few times, and so I knew there was some kind of thing with Jews putting little boxes near their eyes and on their hands or something. Even with that knowledge, I’m surprised I was able to put it together as quickly as I did - I remember that flash of inspiration - Oh! That’s what tefillin are! - but I did.

I wasn’t even religious in any way at that point, I hated Hebrew school as much as all my other classmates and chewed gum during services just because we all knew it annoyed the cantor and only did things my parents made me do - and so I had no reason back then to really care about that moment, but still 10-odd years l remember it distinctly.

So thanks, random tefillin-donning airport Jew.


America’s War on Pinball,

In the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s pinball became one of the most popular games in America.  However the popularity of pinball came with a downside; suspicion from older generations who did not understand the game.  Conservative elements of the country saw pinball as a scourge which corrupted the youth and weakened the moral fiber of the country.  Many saw pinball as nothing more than an easy form of gambling marketed towards young people.  Religious elements saw pinball as a game of the devil, with satanic influence designed to lead the faithful astray.  One of the most ridiculous arguments leveled against pinball was that the machines were controlled by, and a source of income for the mafia.

In response to the moral outcry against pinball, Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia led a campaign to end pinball once and for all.  In his city, New York, he sponsored laws and ordinances to ban pinball.  On January 21st, 1942 pinball was banned in New York City.  Reminiscent of Prohibition, police raided gaming centers, arcades, and amusement parks, smashing the games with axes and tossing the remnants in a local river.  Mayor LaGuardia himself did several photo ops of him participating in raids and personally destroying pinball machines.  Also reminiscent of Prohibition, pinball went underground, and became controlled by the seedier elements of society such as organized crime and the mob.

Inspired by LaGuardia, other cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago likewise banned pinball.  By 1950 pinball was banned in most major cities.  The ban would last until the 1960’s and 70’s.  The pinball ban in NYC lasted until 1976 when the law was challenged by pinball aficionado Roger Sharpe challenged the law.  Today pinball is legal most everywhere.  There are still exceptions.  For example in 2010 Beacon, NY shut down a pinball museum due to its ban dating to the 40’s.  In San Francisco owners need a special permit from the city.  In Alameda and Oakland California, pinball is still illegal, though there is talk of legalization in Oakland.

100 high school students booted from New York flight for not shutting off their phones
A group of about 100 high school students traveling from New York to Atlanta were thrown off a flight, along with their chaperones, after the pilot and crew lost patience with some kids who wouldn’t sit down and put away their cellphones.

The teenagers, all seniors at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, in Brooklyn, were ordered off the AirTran flight around 6 a.m. Monday as it sat at a gate at LaGuardia Airport.

AirTran’s parent company, Southwest Airlines, said in a statement that flight attendants asked passengers several times to take their seats and put their mobile devices away. The airline said that when some didn’t comply, the captain repeated the request. When that didn’t work, either, the whole group of students was ordered to disembark for safety reasons, the airline said. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)