Flying during a holiday season is tough. Flying to Israel during Sukkot when you don’t eat outside of a sukkah is significantly tougher. But for New Yorkers who have left plans for how to eat during the trans-Atlantic trip, um, up in the air, Rabbi Yossi Rapp has brought in some help.
For the first time ever, Chabad of the Airport (yes, there really is such a thing), located at JFK, will have an 8-foot-by-8-foot sukkah available for traveler — and airport employee — use.
“Many passengers are flying to Israel, and they might have to go 20 hours without eating or drinking,” Rabbi Rapp said. “Having those people in mind, we thought it was something important, and, also [for] the people who need to shake the lulav and etrog.”
During the nine days of Sukkot, which began Wednesday night, Jews eat in sukkahs, huts symbolizing the huts Jews slept in during the 40 years they wandered in the desert.
Orthodox Jews require men and boys to eat all meals — any repast that includes bread — in a sukkah. Women are not required to do so, but in most communities, it is considered a mitzvah. Although non-bread snacks can be eaten outside of the sukkah, many Jews consider it praiseworthy to do as much of one’s eating as possible inside the sukkah.
It’s for this crowd that the sukkah can mean the difference between a miserable or comfortable flight.
One would think that a request to plop down a sukkah next to one of the busiest airport terminals in the world, during “one of the most serious terror threat environments since the 9/11 attacks,” according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website, would be dismissed out of hand, but Rabbi Rapp said airport officials were quite receptive to the idea, understanding how badly Jews who don’t eat outside the sukkah need the option.
The hardest part was finding outdoor space. The necessity of “seeing the sky brought a lot of considerations of [figuring out] where we can do it,” Rabbi Rapp said. “And we found a great spot.”
The airport sukkah will make its debut early next week. (It’s slated to go up during the intermediate days.) To find it, exit Terminal 4 on the arrivals level and go to the east side of the building, where the extra carts and cherry picker usually reside.
Although organizations like Chabad of the Hamptons and Chabad of the Lower East Side might be better known, Chabad of the Airport has been helping travellers don tefillin and participate in Chanukah candle lightings and Purim Megillah readings for more than four decades. Last year it achieved another milestone: the opening of a permanent booth in the terminal.
This year’s milestone, the sukkah, will be available not only to travelers but also to the tens of thousands of people who work at JFK. One of them is Rabbi Dr. Ari Korenblit, who heads The International Synagogue, also located in Terminal 4. In past years, Rabbi Korenblit simply didn’t eat when he was at the airport shul during Sukkot, or, in a pinch, had a piece of fruit.
Asked if he thought he would use the airport sukkah this year, he said yes. “I most certainly will,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing.”