Pope John Paul II, who moves among his faithful in a custom-built, bullet-proof car known as the “Popemobile, wasn’t the only religious leader to travel in style during his American visit.
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, head of the International Rabbinical Assembly and spiritual leader of a New Jersey synagogue, came to New York by helicopter from his congregation shortly after the Sabbath ended Saturday night to join with some two dozen Jewish leaders in a meeting with the pontiff.
The International Rabbinical Assembly represents some 1,400 rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement.
A police escort rushed him from his synagogue, Congregation Agudath Israel, to the local airport, where a helicopter provided by the mayor of Caldwell, N.J., awaited him. Silverstein is a resident of Caldwell.
In just eight minutes, he touched down at a heliport on the East River along the edge of Manhattan, where he was whisked by car to the residence of Cardinal John O’Connor, who was hosting the meeting Jewish leaders and the pope.
The meeting was scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
The problem was the Secret Service required that they arrive a half hour before their meeting. But Shabbat ended at 7:13 p.m.
For New Yorkers, 45 minutes is just enough time to grab a cab after Havdalah and get to the cardinal’s residence, which is located in midtown Manhattan behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
But for Silverstein, the trip would take at least an hour – and that’s on a good day, without traffic – and the pope’s visit had been tying up traffic all over the city.
“It’s a very unusual way to begin the end of Shabbat,” said Silverstein, who never before traveled by helicopter.
“But there’s something poetic about the head of an international rabbinical assembly meeting with the pope and first spending some time in the heavens.”