When news broke that there had been a deadly shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport hours before the Jewish Sabbath Friday, Rabbi Schneur Kaplan rushed to the airport with an offer for those who observe: a place to pray and a place to stay.
“Shabbos is coming but thank God we are safe,” he said in a Facebook Live post from Terminal 1. “We have put out a post if anyone is stranded in the airport and needs a place for Shabbos we are going to meet at the baggage claim in Terminal 1 as soon as they allow us to move around. Right now they are not letting us move anywhere.”
His plan: to make the “pilgrimage” with the help of a Broward Sheriff’s Office escort to the synagogue he leads, Downtown Jewish Center Chabad, 900 E. Broward Blvd.
As the Sabbath ended at sundown Saturday — observant Jews do not use phone or drive on the Sabbath — Schneur said no one took advantage of his offer but he remained in Terminal 1 for hours praying with people and offering comfort to stranded passengers.
“I had an intuition that I needed to be there because I imagined people needed comfort and prayer,” he said.
While everyone was making their way out, he managed to get himself in as a clergy member. For several hours, Kaplan posted updates through Facebook Live asking people to meet him in Terminal 1.
“It was frightening, but the strength and resilience of the human spirit was on display,” he said.
He said it was hard to sort people out because “everything was so fluid.” With Shabbat starting at about 5:30 p.m., communication became difficult and he focused on helping where he could.
“[I’m] working with the Red Cross to give out water and just to give people hugs and give them strength,” the rabbi said in a Facebook Live video. “Just spoke with a woman who was anxious to get home because she wants to light Shabbos candles, but thank God we are safe and God willing we will be able to clear the airport in a few moments and let us all go home.”