On Chanukah, as fliers pass through check-in, they are greeted with a warm “Chag Someach!” backed by a bright, colorful Chanukah display of Sufganiyot, dreidels and games for children. Some have kindled the Menorah at home, but many have yet to do so.
Each day, hundreds of passengers’ liftoff from a NYC runway, ascending towards Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, and each day, a group of Buchurim are there to see them off.
Posters are displayed around the Aiport, directing fellow Jews in the location of the action. Delta’s check-in is particularly targeted, because they also have a flight to Israel.
After enjoying the welcomed treats, many proceed to kindle a Menorah of their own, right there, in Terminal 4 of JFK International Airport. While their children sit down and play dreidel, complete some Chanukah themed crafts, or find Judah Maccabee in a crossword puzzle, adults listen to a Yeshiva student expound upon Chanukah’s relevance to our times and lives, “Bayomim haheim bizman hazeh”.
Over the course of Chanukah, thousands will have met Chabad at the Airport, and the response is overwhelming. Passengers are thrilled to encounter the opportunity to celebrate Chanukah, and El AL staff are delighted, too, having long befriended the “boys from Chabad” who contribute tremendously to the ‘soul’ of the Airline yearlong.
Organizing the group is Rabbi Yossi Rapp, Director of Chabad of the Airport. Yossi is continuing what his legendary father began back in 1973.
For decades, Rabbi Yekusiel Menachem Rapp, OB”M, ran the Chabad presence at the Airport, and specifically, amongst those at El AL, developing warm relations with El-Al executives, and through them, the Israeli security establishments. When the Rebbe wanted to send Matzos to Israel, Rabbi Rapp had it arranged. “Send it through ‘Unzer Yekusiel’”, said the Rebbe. At his father’s Shloshim, Yossi committed himself to continuing his father’s work, and Chabad activities at the Airport has been expanding ever since.
Yossi leads the Mivtzoim at the airport all year round, laying Tefillin with hundreds of passengers, and connecting them with Chabad in their respective locations. “Many are Israelis, but people from all over go to tour Israel, and some don’t realize they have a Chabad near their own homes” says Yossi.
Preparations are no simple task. It begins months in advance to securing the necessary permits for the Chanukah booth and fire lighting, coordinating with the airport’s security and management apparatus, as well as the Airline to ensure flyers have their Jewish needs cared for, without a hitch.
Chabad at the Airport will continue to actively engage and service every Jew in the Airport, until the ultimate Geulah with Moshiach Tzidkeinu, may it be speedily in our days.
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