On Monday evening, August 12, following the Tish’ah B’Av fast, more than a thousand men are expected to sit in traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway, heading towards Kennedy Airport. They will pass by sign after sign listing one airline after another. Theirs has been defunct since 2001, but the internationally renowned TWA Terminal reopened last year as an event venue with a hotel, rooftop pool, and an airplane from 1958 serving as a cocktail lounge. This is where Queens Hatzolah will be holding this year’s Premier Men’s Event, headlined by superstar singer Avraham Fried and the Zemiros Choir.
In prior years, supporters of Queens Hatzolah had the event at the New York Hall of Science, renting out the space after it closed to the public, with music, barbecue, and wine-tasting under the Gemini-Titan and Mercury-Atlas rockets that took the first American astronauts into space. The TWA building is their contemporary. Designed by Eero Saarinen, the 1962 structure evokes the optimism of early commercial aviation with a sweeping bird-like roof that covers a gallery that was dubbed the Cathedral of Aviation and Grand Central of the Jet Age.
Like the famous Midtown train terminal, it features a clock in the center and a display board with cities that rival New York as global hubs of commerce and tourism. The style is called International Modernism, but unlike the box-like Lever House and the Seagram Building on Park Avenue with their boxy rigid form, Saarinen’s terminal is akin to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, with its lifelike forms that evoke movement on a site surrounded by flying objects. “We wanted the architecture to reveal the terminal not as a static, enclosed place,” Saarinen said in a lecture in 1959, “but as a place of movement and transition.”
Passengers arriving in New York via TWA exited their planes through long, windowless, but brightly lit passageways that opened up into the terminal building. The architecture evoked the Jetsons cartoon series and the New York World’s Fair of 1964. It was through this building that the Kadinsky family landed in America on August 31, 1992. Upon landing, I ran with my brother towards the nose of the airplane, jostling past other immigrants, business travelers, and tourists, for the honor of being the first in the family to touch American soil. I was eight years old, and he was almost four, and we were deeply aware of the historic occasion of our flight.
This was our Ellis Island, as palatial and inspiring as the national monument in New York Harbor, a far cry from our departure in Riga where we walked on the tarmac and up a flight of stairs to enter the airplane. That year, TWA declared bankruptcy for the first time, and the terminal was becoming obsolete as it was unable to accommodate larger airplanes. At the turn of the millennium, increased security measures at airports also doomed the terminal’s ability to handle passengers.
The terminal closed in early 2001, a city landmark that gathered dust as the surrounding airport entered this century. A taller control tower, the AirTrain to Jamaica, new terminals, and ramps, make today’s JFK Airport unrecognizable to the traveler of 1962. Delta Airlines’ Worldport terminal with its flying saucer roof is gone, as is I. M. Pei’s National Airlines terminal known as the Sundrome. Also gone are the three chapels that stood in the center of the airport. The Jewish chapel today is a synagogue room inside Terminal 4 led by Rabbi Ari Korenblit.
The only significant building at JFK Airport from the earlier golden age of commercial aviation is the TWA Hotel. My last visit to this building was in 2015, for Open House New York, an event that opens doors for places that are either abandoned or closed to the public. The crowds that day demonstrated how much New Yorkers loved Saarinen’s unique terminal.
After a $265 million renovation, the TWA Terminal has a new lease on life as a 500-room hotel. The gallery is the hotel lobby, flanked by lounges filled with memorabilia from the 1960s. As it was then, it has again become a destination unto itself. It is as much a magnet for tourism in our borough as the Kaufman Astoria Studios, the Queens Museum, and the US Open.
An overnight stay at the TWA Hotel costs $249. A ticket to the Queens Hatzolah Premier Men’s Event is $180, with the knowledge that the proceeds are funding one of the largest volunteer ambulance services in the country. It was founded in 1978 with seven members. Today it has more than 180 trained emergency responders with a fleet of ten ambulances receiving 7,000 calls a year.
Its annual operating budget exceeds $1.5 million, ensuring not only state-of-the-art vehicles, but also equipment such as defibrillators, life-support bags, cardiac monitors, and radios. This is how lives are saved in our community, and it is recognized by so many sponsors this year, representing a variety of industries and institutions. They recognize the importance of Queens Hatzolah not only for individual lives saved, but also for the life of our Jewish community.
Between the iconic location and the vital cause being supported, this year’s Premier Men’s Event is the place to be.4
By Sergey Kadinsky