The International Synagogue was organized and established in 1958 to meet the needs of the traveling community. The International Synagogue has been representing Judaism to the flying public at the air gateway to the U.S. for 50 years.
The International Synagogue started functioning as a house of worship in temporary quarters in 1962. In 1965, land was leased to the three faith groups (Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish) at the newly established Idlewild Airport by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey with the aim of erecting houses of worship for the faith groups. The New York Board of Rabbis undertook the project of building a Synagogue at the International Airport with the intent of allowing the Jewish community to have equal religious representation at this new major airport. Each chapel contained “worship” space for 250 people. Each building also contained meeting rooms, a library, a kitchen, and a small museum. The three chapels, standing side by side, proclaimed the religious liberty guaranteed by the United States of America and represented the religious freedom that persons of every creed enjoy here.
The large chapel was dedicated in 1967. Rabbis, elected officials and civic leaders all were involved in the dedication ceremonies. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey stated that the chapels represented “a symbol of the essential unity of our great religions, and a pledge of their determination to make this a better nation and a better world.” Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz, Chairman of the board of Governors of the Synagogue, expressed the hope that the three faith communities would help “create a climate for world peace, especially in the Middle East.”
In 1988, a decision was made by the Port Authority to incorporate the chapels within the International Arrivals Building. Since it was inconvenient for passengers and employees to reach the chapels by foot from the terminals The three buildings were torn down to be re-located within the new main building. From 1988 until 2001, the three faith groups shared one temporary chapel on the second floor while construction was taking place. Presently, there are four chapels, side by side, on the fourth floor of the International Arrivals Terminal. The fourth chapel (Multi-Faith) was added. Each chapel accommodates approximately fifty people.
The chapel is a place where the Jewish community of New York can welcome important leaders of our community. In the past, dignitaries have been David ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, Rabbi Moshe Rosen, Dr. Zerach Wahrhaftig, and Abba Eban were recognized and greeted. And, many prominent rabbis, rebbes, and communal leaders still come to pray in the shul. Special conferences and meetings have been held on the premises due to its convenient location.
The original International Synagogue served as a place of worship for travelers and as resource for the entire community. At times, it hosted stranded travelers by providing food and lodging during severe weather conditions. Recently, The Synagogue, together with the other chapels, cared for 450 stranded passengers for six days due to the eruption of a dormant volcano in Iceland. Our special chapel is ready to provide a place for davening, prayer, meditation, and study for the weary traveler.
The Synagogue continues to fulfill its mandate as a place of refuge for the
Jewish traveler within an environment that is nurturing and friendly.
Rabbi Ari Korenblit is the Jewish Chaplain.