A Scotch Plains cantor who flies planes as a hobby is among those disappointed that a major aviation society will not reschedule its October “fly-in” so as not to fall on Yom Kippur.
Cantor Matt Axelrod of Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains is a private pilot, a cofounder of Jews in Aviation, and a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
The AOPA has scheduled its major event, the “fly-in,” for Oct. 4, 2014, Yom Kippur. During the “fly-in,” private pilots from around the country fly to a specific location for a gathering.
Although there are six fly-ins scheduled at different locations around the country throughout 2014, the one held at the AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Md., is known as “homecoming” and is considered “extra special” by the AOPA website. Axelrod calls it “the big one.”
“Basically, any Jewish pilot who may have wanted to participate is closed out,” said Axelrod. Although many AOPA events are scheduled on Saturdays, Axelrod added, “Yom Kippur is a special occasion, unlike many Jewish holidays. It has maintained its holiness and is observed by all levels of Jews. Even those unaffiliated treat Yom Kippur with a special sanctity.”
On Jan. 27, AOPA president Mark Baker released an open letter that stated, in part, “I want to apologize to all of our Jewish members and to anyone who is disappointed or offended by this choice of date. I have heard your concerns and can promise we will consider the timing of important religious and cultural events as we schedule future fly-ins.”
He pointed out that AOPA had an “extremely narrow window” in which to schedule the event, based on the Frederick venue’s calendar, the weather, airport availability, and a nearby airshow. He added, “We also understand that for some individuals Sabbath requirements make it impossible to attend any fly-in event held on a Saturday, as most one-day aviation gatherings are.” Baker added, “We have learned from our error, and in the future we will be more attentive to holidays beyond those observed by the federal government.”
Other New Jersey Jewish pilots expressed disappointment, mixed with understanding.
Rabbi Don Weber of Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, an active member of AOPA, said he had spoken with the president of the organization.
“It’s clearly an honest mistake, one they have pledged will never happen again,” he said. “Frederick, Md., is not exactly a hotbed of Jewish life.”
He was not miffed that the event would not be rescheduled. “The event is a big thing and requires police and town coordination,” he said. “But I don’t take it as something done to hurt Jews. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I’ve been personally assured that they’ve put the Jewish calendar on theirs for the next 100 years. There’s a time to make noise and a time not to.”
Howard Cooper, cofounder with Axelrod of Jews in Aviation and a Jewish educator who lives in Maplewood, agreed.
“I don’t think there was any malice here,” said Cooper, who belongs to Congregation Beth El in South Orange. “I think it was just an oversight. I don’t like it. I think they shouldn’t have done it, but at the end of the day, I think it’s an issue of critical mass.”
Cooper guessed the number of Jewish pilots was probably less than the proportion of Jews in the general population, or less than 2 percent.
Jerry Krivitzky, a pilot from Montclair and a member of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, suggested that the scheduling conflict doesn’t warrant a complaint. “I grew up in a community that had Jews but definitely was not Jewish,” he said. “But rather than be angry with those who made the schedules, it was on these days and in those moments that I felt the most Jewish.”
An anonymous “complainant” quoted by the Aero-News Network website was less sanguine. “It’s like scheduling it over Easter weekend,” the complainant is quoted as saying. “[T]his seems a silly way to snub so many of their members.”
Axelrod acknowledged that those who did the scheduling may have had no idea Oct. 4 is Yom Kippur. “The question is, when it was brought to their attention, how did they react? I know people have been in touch with AOPA, and no changes have been made,” he said. “It’s just not nice.”