A Rare Look Inside The ‘Gigafactory’ Tesla Hopes Will Revolutionize Energy Use.

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A Rare Look Inside The ‘Gigafactory’ Tesla Hopes Will Revolutionize Energy Use.

Outside Reno, in Nevada’s high desert, Tesla is building what it says is the world’s largest battery factory. The Gigafactory, as it’s called, will churn out batteries for the company’s electric cars. But it’s also making something new — a battery for the home.

Tucked away in a dusty valley near Sparks, Nev., the Gigafactory is kind of like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory: It’s mysterious, it’s big and few people have been inside.

Actually, “big” may not do it justice.

“It’s really hard to get a sense of scale. I mean, it’s huge,” JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer, says while standing on the roof of the factory — the 14 percent of the Gigafactory that’s been built, at least.

We’re looking down at a flat stretch of land where the rest of the Gigafactory — with an estimated price tag of $5 billion — will go.

Like Willy Wonka’s factory, there’s a lot of hype around this place. People have been caught sneaking onto the property to see what Straubel says, at 5.8 million square feet, will be a building with one of the biggest footprints in the world.

“I’m not a huge football fan, but I think it’s on the order of around 100 football fields,” he says.

Nevada beat out several states by offering an incentive package worth more than $1 billion. State lawmakers are watching like hawks for the economic benefits, such as making sure Nevadans make up a big part of the factory’s 6,000 workers.

Inside the factory, in room after room after room, workers are welding steel, pouring concrete and installing highly specialized machines, shrouded in plastic.

The production line at Tesla's Gigafactory is already operating for the Powerwall, a battery designed to store electricity from solar panels in average homes.

The production line at Tesla’s Gigafactory is already operating for the Powerwall, a battery designed to store electricity from solar panels in average homes.

One room is filled with huge metal tanks, like an insanely large industrial kitchen. It’s where the raw materials are mixed together. In other rooms, the fully formed pieces of the battery, called the anode and cathode, are baked in huge ovenlike machines, several hundred feet long.

According to Straubel, the equipment in the factory will double the world’s capacity to make lithium-ion batteries. Tesla hopes to produce 35 gigawatt-hours of energy storage annually, which could supply 500,000 of its electric cars.

“It’s not just about building a lot more batteries but it’s about reducing the cost,” Straubel says.

Tesla is known for pricey electric cars, and batteries are a big part of the sticker price. And that, Straubel says, is why this factory is all about scale. Scaling up could drive down the cost of batteries 30 percent or more, he says. Battery packs in most electric cars are estimated to cost more than $10,000 today.

“Our vehicles can be more affordable. More people can have access to them,” Straubel says.

That’s the company’s goal with the new Model 3, Tesla’s first mass market car, announced last month. The Model 3 will start at about $28,000 after the federal tax credit.

“We have today over 325,000 reservations for Model 3, representing this enormous backlog of orders,” Straubel says.

Those are orders that Tesla can’t fill if this factory isn’t up and running.

One room over, part of the factory is running, but it’s making something else: the Powerwall. The flat battery, about 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, is Tesla’s first battery for residences.

“If someone has solar on their house and they install a Powerwall, what this lets you do is store your surplus solar energy,” Straubel explains.

This is Tesla’s ultimate vision: an electric car in your driveway and a Powerwall — priced starting at $3,000 — in your garage. It’s a future free of fossil fuels, Straubel says.

Tesla is also making a larger version of these batteries called Powerpacks, about the size of a refrigerator, that can be used to store electricity at factories, industrial sites, or by electric utilities.

The Powerwall, a battery designed to store electricity from solar panels in average homes. i

The Powerwall, a battery designed to store electricity from solar panels in average homes.

“That’s changing the transportation landscape. It’s changing the energy landscape. It’s changing the world,” Straubel says.

Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley, agrees that it would be “a game changer for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” The question, he says, is whether consumers will buy into Tesla’s vision.

Take that $3,000 home battery. Electric rates in many states make it hard to actually save money storing your own electricity.

Some solar customers are paid by their electric utilities for the extra solar power they put onto the grid, a policy known as “net energy metering.” That creates little incentive to store solar energy at home.

A battery could help someone save money if his electricity costs a lot more at night than it does during the day. Borenstein says few states have those kinds of electricity prices.

“Average households are not going to get much or any value from these batteries,” Borenstein says.

Early adopters may not care, though.

“They’re people who like that and feel good about it and they’re mostly pretty darn rich,” he says.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is betting that cheaper batteries will make everyone else want a home battery and electric car, too, which could finally lead the company to profitability.

“Is Elon Musk far-seeing and investing in the future?” Borenstein asks. “Or is he making big bets that could all collapse at once?”

The Gigafactory is exactly that gamble. If Tesla stays on schedule, it’ll be fully open in four years.

Source: http://n.pr/1U9q9tm

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Were Jews ever slaves in Egypt? The evidence doesn’t seem to add up.

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Were Jews ever slaves in Egypt? The evidence doesn’t seem to add up. 

It’s one of the greatest stories ever told:

A baby is found in a basket adrift in the Egyptian Nile and is adopted into the pharaoh’s household. He grows up as Moses, rediscovers his roots and leads his enslaved Israelite brethren to freedom after God sends down 10 plagues against Egypt and parts the Red Sea to allow them to escape. They wander for 40 years in the wilderness and, under the leadership of Joshua, conquer the land of Canaan to enter their promised land.

For centuries, the biblical account of the Exodus has been revered as the founding story of the Jewish people, sacred scripture for three world religions and a universal symbol of freedom that has inspired liberation movements around the globe.

But did the Exodus ever actually occur?

On Passover last Sunday, Rabbi David Wolpe raised that provocative question before 2,200 faithful at Sinai Temple in Westwood. He minced no words.

“The truth is that virtually every modern archeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all,” Wolpe told his congregants.

Wolpe’s startling sermon may have seemed blasphemy to some. In fact, however, the rabbi was merely telling his flock what scholars have known for more than a decade. Slowly and often outside wide public purview, archeologists are radically reshaping modern understanding of the Bible. It was time for his people to know about it, Wolpe decided.

After a century of excavations trying to prove the ancient accounts true, archeologists say there is no conclusive evidence that the Israelites were ever in Egypt, were ever enslaved, ever wandered in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years or ever conquered the land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership. To the contrary, the prevailing view is that most of Joshua’s fabled military campaigns never occurred–archeologists have uncovered ash layers and other signs of destruction at the relevant time at only one of the many battlegrounds mentioned in the Bible.

Today, the prevailing theory is that Israel probably emerged peacefully out of Canaan–modern-day Lebanon, southern Syria, Jordan and the West Bank of Israel–whose people are portrayed in the Bible as wicked idolators. Under this theory, the Canaanites who took on a new identity as Israelites were perhaps joined or led by a small group of Semites from Egypt–explaining a possible source of the Exodus story, scholars say. As they expanded their settlement, they may have begun to clash with neighbors, perhaps providing the historical nuggets for the conflicts recorded in Joshua and Judges.

“Scholars have known these things for a long time, but we’ve broken the news very gently,” said William Dever, a professor of Near Eastern archeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona and one of America’s preeminent archeologists.

Dever’s view is emblematic of a fundamental shift in archeology. Three decades ago as a Christian seminary student, he wrote a paper defending the Exodus and got an A, but “no one would do that today,” he says. The old emphasis on trying to prove the Bible–often in excavations by amateur archeologists funded by religious groups–has given way to more objective professionals aiming to piece together the reality of ancient lifestyles.

But the modern archeological consensus over the Exodus is just beginning to reach the public. In 1999, an Israeli archeologist, Ze’ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University, set off a furor in Israel by writing in a popular magazine that stories of the patriarchs were myths and that neither the Exodus nor Joshua’s conquests ever occurred. In the hottest controversy today, Herzog also argued that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, described as grand and glorious in the Bible, was at best a small tribal kingdom.

Dever argued that the Exodus story was produced for theological reasons: to give an origin and history to a people and distinguish them from others by claiming a divine destiny.

Some scholars, of course, still maintain that the Exodus story is basically factual.

Bryant Wood, director of the Associates for Biblical Research in Maryland, argued that the evidence falls into place if the story is dated back to 1450 BC. He said that indications of destruction around that time at Hazor, Jericho and a site he is excavating that he believes is the biblical city of Ai support accounts of Joshua’s conquests.

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Woman in India cuts off rapist’s penis and takes it to police station.

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Woman in India cuts off rapist’s penis and takes it to police station.

A 32-year-old Indian woman cut off her brother-in-law’s penis and handed it to police, claiming he had sexually assaulted her.

Accompanied by her three children, the woman went to a police station in the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh in central India, where she told officers her brother-in-law had raped her, the Times of India reported.

Police attempted to send medical support to the man, but he was found to have committed suicide.

His body was reportedly found hanging from a tree near their house.

The woman had been living with her brother-in-law because her husband worked more than 700 miles away, in Nashik, Maharashtra.

She reportedly told police that she had used a sickle to cut off her brother-in-law’s penis as it was the only way to stop him attacking her.

According to Sidhi police spokesman Abid Khan, the woman has been charged with attempted murder.

“This is a rare case and has to be investigated for a proper charge sheet,” he said.

There has been an increasing media focus on rape in India since the fatal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus in December 2012.

The number of rapes in India rose by 9 per cent to 33,707 in 2014, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau.

Source: http://ind.pn/22PoKsp

Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire launch $100m star voyage.

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Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire launch $100m star voyage. 

In an unprecedented boost for interstellar travel, the Silicon Valley philanthropist Yuri Milner and the world’s most famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking have announced $100m (£70m) for research into a 20-year voyage to the nearest stars, at one fifth of the speed of light.

Breakthrough Starshot – the third Breakthrough initiative in the past four years – will test the knowhow and technologies necessary to send a featherweight robot spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri star system, at a distance of 4.37 light years: that is, 40,000,000,000,000 kilometres or 25 trillion miles.

A 100 billion-watt laser-powered light beam would accelerate a “nanocraft” – something weighing little more than a sheet of paper and driven by a sail not much bigger than a child’s kite, fashioned from fabric only a few hundred atoms in thickness – to the three nearest stars at 60,000km a second.

Milner, a Russian-born billionaire investor who began as a physicist, was one of the founders of the Breakthrough prizes, the biggest in science, announced in 2012 and awarded for fundamental research in physics, life sciences and mathematics. Last year, he and Professor Stephen Hawking of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge announced another $100m Breakthrough Listen initiative to step up the search for extraterrestrial life beyond the solar system. The project has just released its first data from stars within 16 light years of Earth. The entrepreneur describes science as his “hobby.”

Today’s announcement comes on the 55th anniversary of the first orbit of the planet by the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Milner, who was born in Moscow in 1961, was named after the cosmonaut.

“The human story is one of great leaps,” he said. “Today we are preparing for the next great leap – to the stars.” And Professor Hawking said: “Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever. Sooner or later we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey.”

Near-lightspeed flight by a spacecraft would have been unthinkable 15 years ago. The gamble is that it could be possible within 15 years, with accelerating advances in microelectronics, nanotechnology and laser engineering. The research programme will be led by Pete Worden, until last year the head of the Nasa Ames research centre. Milner, Hawking and the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, already a partner in the fundamental science initiative, comprise the board, which will advised by a committee of distinguished engineers and scientists. This committee has already identified 20 formidable challenges to be overcome before any possible takeoff for the stars.

The project’s begetters argue that they have Moore’s Law working for them: the memory and processing power available on a computer chip doubles every 18 months or so. New advances in nanoscience mean that fabrics with unique properties can be made to order. And advances in laser technology mean that huge power can be generated at relatively low costs.

At the heart of the project will be the starchip and lightsail. The great hurdle in all space missions is the cost of launch and the weight of fuel. The headlong miniaturisation of microelectronics means that it might be possible to pack the entire control system, the sensors, camera, navigation equipment, photon thrusters, transmitter and power supply onto a tiny silicon wafer, and mount it on an ultra-thin sail weighing only grams, that would respond to the pressure of light.

“We hope to have good answers to the key challenges in about 10 years. At that time we hope to have assembled a coalition of high net-worth individuals to fund the full-scale project and begin work on what will likely be a 10 year or more construction effort,” Worden told the Guardian. “The key challenge is that the final interstellar system is affordable – by that we mean its final cost is comparable to other large scientific endeavours such as the Cern accelerator.”

He added: “We would welcome participation by governments, national and international organisations and space agencies. Indeed, we have already discussed our plans with several space agencies around the world.”

Researchers worked out more than 50 years ago that sunlight could power a space mission, and by 1989 had calculated that solar radiation alone could slowly accelerate a spaceship with vast lightweight sails – and no fuel to carry – to 100kms a second: faster than any spacecraft so far. Even at that matchless speed a journey to the nearest star would take thousands of years.

But falling costs and increasing processing power mean that spacecraft could become ever smaller and lighter: they could be launched by the thousand from a mothership and then driven by the proposed Light Beamer, a billion-watt laser array, mounted somewhere high and dry such as the Atacama desert in Chile.

This could multiply the radiation pressure, and accelerate the space sailors to a significant fraction of light speed. This would reduce such a journey to the timescale of one human generation: some of the scientists caught up in the beginning of the project could expect to see results within a working lifetime.

“We take inspiration from Vostok, Voyager and the other great missions,” said Worden. “It’s time to open the era of interstellar flight but we need to keep our feet on the ground to achieve this.”

The research funded by the Breakthrough Starshot initiative will be entirely in the public domain. Nobody pretends that any of it will be easy. Avi Loeb, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, who heads the advisory board, said that to power the spacecraft, researchers have to work out how to link lasers into one massive array. Since the range of focus of a big laser on a small target would be no more than a million kilometers, the fragile spacecraft must reach terminal speed in just two minutes, and survive an acceleration of 60,000 times the force of gravity.

The night sky
The night sky. Photograph: Babek Tafreshi/SSPL via Getty Images

He believes that starship could record images and data as it nears the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, the nearest to Earth. The big challenge would be to transmit the information across a distance of more than four light years to a receiving station on a planet already far away and long ago. The laser array – the Light Beamer – would double as a telescope system to receive the signal back from the receding nanocraft.

“Just imagine reversing the direction of time,” he said. “Instead of an electromagnetic wave coming out of the system, it can receive a wave.”

Speaking at the project’s launch on Tuesday, Hawking said transcending our limits was what made humans unique. “Gravity pins us to the ground but I just flew to America. I lost my voice but I can still speak thanks to my voice synthesiser. How do we transcend these limits? With our minds and our machines.

“The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars. But now we can transcend it, with light beams, light sails, and the lightest spacecraft ever built we can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation. Today we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos, because we are human and our nature is to fly.”

Freeman Dyson, the American physicist and writer, said that in the quest to find life elsewhere, humans should focus not just on planets, but on asteroids, comets and even the dust clouds that hang in interstellar space. “All kinds of small places are much better for life, and the huge advantage is that it’s easier to get off one object and move to another,” he said. “You can hop into space, fly over to your neighbour’s, have a cup of tea, and come back again, which is hard to do when you are on a planet.”

Source: http://bit.ly/1NATCpF

Newsroom pressure is letting fake stories on to the web. (even from reputable media)

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Newsroom pressure is letting fake stories on to the web. (even from reputable media)

t started with a post on social media. Or, to be more exact, a series of posts about a visit to McDonald’s to buy a milkshake. Within hours, Josh Raby’s gripping account on Twitter was international news, covered by respected outlets on both sides of the Atlantic.

“This guy’s story about trying to buy a McDonald’s milkshake turned into a bit of a mission and the internet can’t get enough of it,” read the headline on Indy100, the Independent’s sister title. The New York Daily News said he’d been “tortured”. Except, as McDonald’s pointed out – and Raby himself later admitted – the story was embellished to entertain his Twitter followers, although he says he based it on real events.

Raby’s was the latest thinly sourced story that, on closer inspection, turned out not to be as billed. The phenomenon is largely a product of the increasing pressure in newsrooms that have had their resources slashed, then been recalibrated to care more about traffic figures.

And, beyond professional journalists, there is also a “whole cottage industry of people who put out fake news”, says Brooke Binkowski, an editor at debunking website Snopes. “They profit from it quite a lot in advertising when people start sharing the stories. They are often protected because they call themselves ‘satire’ or say in tiny fine print that they are for entertainment purposes only.”

Facebook, a source of a lot of traffic from many online titles, has recognised the role it plays in driving the market, and in January 2015 promised to tweak its algorithm to demote fake news articles in users’ feeds.

Binkowski says that, during her career, she has seen a shift towards less editorial oversight in newsrooms. “Clickbait is king, so newsrooms will uncritically print some of the worst stuff out there, which lends legitimacy to – in a word – bullshit. Not all newsrooms are like this, but a lot of them are.”

The Guardian has heard numerous accounts from journalists about the pressures in UK newsrooms that lead to dodgy stories being reported uncritically, but none would go on record. One person working for a UK news publication claims the industry is now “like the wild west”. The source, who asked not to be named for fear of recriminations from her employer, says: “You have an editor breathing down your neck and you have to meet your targets.”

Asked what the driving factor was, she said: “It is a combination. There are some very young and excited journalists out there. If you do a story and it goes viral, it is very exciting. But big bosses are trying to meet targets. There are some young journalists on the market who are inexperienced and who will not do those checks.

“So much news that is reported online happens online. There is no need to get out and doorstep someone. You just sit at your desk and do it and, because it is so immediate, you are going to take that risk. Editors will say, ‘The BBC got that six seconds before we did.’”

Another journalist, who asked not to be named for similar reasons, says: “There is definitely a pressure to churn out stories, including dubious ones, in order to get clicks, because they equal money. At my former employer in particular, the pressure was on due to the limited resources. That made the environment quite horrible to work in.”

In a February 2015 report for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, Craig Silverman wrote: “Journalists have always sought out emerging (and often unverified) news. They have always followed on the reports of other news organisations. But today the bar for what is worth giving attention seems to be much lower.

“Within minutes or hours, a claim can morph from a lone tweet or badly sourced report to a story repeated by dozens of news websites, generating tens of thousands of shares. Once a certain critical mass is reached, repetition has a powerful effect on belief. The rumour becomes true for readers simply by virtue of its ubiquity.” Silverman points out examples where titles – including the Guardian – reported false rumours, which had to be corrected later.

And, despite the direction that some newsrooms seem to be heading in, a critical eye is becoming more, not less crucial, according to the New York Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan. “Reporters and editors have to be more careful than ever before. As hoaxers get more sophisticated and more numerous, it’s extremely important to be sceptical and to use every verification method available before publication.”

Yet those working in newsrooms talk of dubious stories being tolerated because, in the words of one, some senior editors think “a click is a click, regardless of the merit of a story”. And, if the story does turn out to be false, it’s simply a chance for another bite at the cherry.

In September 2015, the Brisbane Times was one of many titles to report the story of Natalie Amyot, a French tourist who had posted a video on YouTube saying she was seeking help to find a man with whom she’d had a one-night stand after discovering that she was pregnant. The same title reported the following day that it had been a set-up.

In June 2014, Huffington Post and Mail Online were among those to report that three-year-old Victoria Wilcher, who had suffered facial scarring, had been kicked out of a KFC because she was frightening customers. Later, both the Mail and Huffington Post were among those reporting KFC’s announcement that two investigations had found no evidence to support the claims. And, in November last year, the Independent and the BBC were among titles to pick up the story of a Vietnamese-Australian man calling himself Phuc Dat Bich, who complained he had been banned by Facebook because of his name. He would give no interviews. Months later, Indy100 – then named i100 – and the BBC were among those reporting that he had made it all up to “fool the media”.

Verification and fact-checking are regularly falling prey to the pressure to bring in the numbers, and if the only result of being caught out is another chance to bring in the clicks, that looks unlikely to change.

Source: http://bit.ly/1Si74AH

Measles Detected in California School With High Number of Unvaccinated Children.

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Measles Detected in California School With High Number of Unvaccinated Children.

California public health officials are working to stop a possible measles outbreak after a student tested positive for measles at a school with a high number of unvaccinated students.

The Nevada County Public Health Department said the unnamed student attended the Yuba River Charter School and showed symptoms when the student attended school earlier this month. The agency did not identify the grade of the student. Nevada county is in the Sierra Nevada mountains, about an hour north of Sacramento and near the border with Nevada.

Dr. Karen Smith, the director and State Public Health Officer at the California Department of Public Health, said the child showed measles symptoms after traveling overseas. The child has recovered from the illness, but health officials said they are concerned that other unvaccinated children may have been exposed.

“As the state’s public health officer, it’s concerning to receive a report of a child with measles because it’s a disease that can easily be prevented,” Smith said. “Immunization is the best way to protect against measles. Two doses of the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine are approximately 97 percent effective at preventing disease in exposed persons.”

Measles is one of the most infectious viruses on the planet. Unprotected people exposed to the virus have a 90 percent chance of being infected. The virus is airborne and an unprotected person can be infected if they simply enter the same room an infected person was in hours earlier.

The Yuba Charter School has a low rate of vaccine compliance and is classified as “most vulnerable” to outbreaks, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. The overall vaccination rate for the school’s kindergartners is just 42.6 percent, according to the California Department of Public Health. Only staff and students who are up to date on their vaccines are currently allowed to come to school, according to the school’s website.

The California Department of Health collects data on vaccination rates for three cohorts — day care, kindergarten and 7th grade.

About 44 percent of kindergartners at the school are up-to-date on their MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shots, according to the California Department of Public Health. To create an effective “herd immunity” that can help stop outbreaks, health officials advise having at least 95 percent of people vaccinated.

Symptoms of measles include diarrhea, ear infection and pneumonia. Rare severe complications occur more often among children under five, those with compromised immune systems, and adults over the age of 20 are at higher risk for severe complications such as encephalitis or death.

Source: http://abcn.ws/1Ns6i20

 

Woman sues airline after being moved at the request of an ultra-Orthodox Jew passenger.

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Woman sues airline after being moved at the request of an ultra-Orthodox Jew passenger.

A retired lawyer who fled the Nazis as a child is suing the Israeli national airline El Al for alleged discrimination after being asked to move on a plane when an ultra-Orthodox Jew objected to sitting next to her.

Renee Rabinowitz, 81, is being supported by the Israel Religious Action Center, which has campaigned against ultra-Orthodox efforts to enforce the segregation of men and women and to have images of women removed from public hoardings.

Almost 7,500 emails have been sent by members of the public to El Al objecting to requests made to women passengers to change seats.

Rabinowitz, a Jew who attends synagogue and keeps a kosher home, told the Guardian: “The man had no other reason to complain than my gender – and that’s unlawful discrimination. It’s no different than if a person of another religion had said: ‘I don’t want to sit next to a Jew.’ And I don’t believe El Al would move a person in those circumstance.”

On 2 December last year, Rabinowitz settled into her business class seat on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv following a visit to the US to see family. Her seat was one of a pair separated by a screen.

Shortly before the plane doors closed, a passenger who had been allocated the window seat next to Rabinowitz boarded. The middle-aged man, who was wearing ultra-Orthodox garb, called a flight attendant and spoke to him in Hebrew.

Rabinowitz said the flight attendant then offered Rabinowitz what he described as a better seat, one of the central row of three nearer the first class cabin. “I didn’t understand. It wasn’t a better seat,” she said.

She said she initially declined to move, but the flight attendant pressed her further and as the plane was close to taking off, she felt she had no alternative. Using her walking stick, Rabinowitz followed him to the front of the business class section.“I asked the flight attendant point blank if the man sitting next to me had asked me to be moved, and unabashedly he said yes. I then went back to the man and said: ‘I’m an 81-year-old woman, what’s your problem?’

“He started to tell me it was forbidden by the Torah. I interrupted him to say the Torah says nothing about a man sitting next to a woman. He conceded I was right, but said there was a general principle that a person should not put himself in a dangerous situation.

“I had to do some quick thinking. He was wrong, but we had an 11-hour flight ahead of us. It’s not so pleasant to be sitting with a person who would rather you weren’t there. So I decided to move.”

After the plane landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, as Rabinowitz waited on board for wheelchair assistance, the captain emerged from the cockpit. She told him what had happened, and said she felt insulted for being asked to move simply because of her gender. “He said it was not up to the staff, but was company policy,” said Rabinowitz.

Back home in Jerusalem, Rabinowitz attended a public meeting at which Anat Hoffman, IRAC’s executive director, spoke about the organisation’s successful campaign to end gender segregation on Israel’s public buses at the demand of the ultra-Orthodox. Since IRAC won a court case on the issue, buses carry prominent notices informing passengers they may sit where they wish.

“Anat said they wanted to launch a similar action in the air. Afterwards I told her what had happened to me,” said Rabinowitz.

Hoffman said: “We kept hearing from women, both Israelis and tourists, that they had been asked to move seats on planes. We were looking for a good case to take up, and then Renee walked in. She’s 81, and a Holocaust survivor – and she was humiliated by Israel’s national airline.”

Rabinowitz and IRAC are seeking 50,000 shekels (£9,200) in damages and wants EL Al to publish clear staff guidelines “concerning their obligation to act in an egalitarian manner, including emphasising to the company’s aircrews that they must defend women’s rights to sit in their allocated seat, and clarifying to flight attendants that they may not acquiesce to requests by passengers wishing to change places purely for reasons of gender”.

IRAC is awaiting El Al’s formal statement of defence, which must be submitted within 30 days of the lawsuit being filed. But in a letter to Rabinowitz’s lawyer, the company insisted there was no gender discrimination on El Al flights.

It said it had investigated the incident, and found that the flight attendant had dealt with Rabinowitz politely and sensitively, making it clear that Rabinowitz was not obliged to move. As a gesture of goodwill, El Al offered Rabinowitz a $200 (£140) voucher towards her next flight. “The money is not the important issue here, it’s the principle,” said Rabinowitz.

Since she and her late husband, a rabbi, moved to Israel from the US in 2000, she said she has regularly taken El Al flights to visit members of her family.

“I’m not generally a crusader. This just happened and it was very disturbing and very demeaning,” she said.

Hoffman described El Al’s acquiescence to demands to move women passengers as “one more way that ultra-Orthodox extremists get away with demands that have nothing to do with Judaism. Humiliating women can in no way qualify as a religious act. It is simply not acceptable.”

In a statement, El Al said it maintained “the highest levels of equal treatment and respect for all passengers. Our employees in the air, on the ground, in Israel and around the globe do all possible to listen to and provide solutions to the concerns or requests from our customers whatever they might be, including seating requests on the airplane.”

Source: http://bit.ly/1p3q8KC