Sloatsburg, NY - Rest Stop Offers Jewish Men Place to Pray
Sloatsburg, NY - On Thursday nights during the summer, thousands of Orthodox Jewish men transform an ordinary rest stop into a sacred space.
The travelers, who hail from Brooklyn, Staten Island and northern New Jersey, look for a place to pray as they make their way upstate to meet their families.
For nearly two decades, the New York State Thruway Authority has provided a place for religious Jews — as well as those of other faiths — to worship at the Sloatsburg travel plaza along the northbound Thruway, past Exit 15A, due to public safety concerns.
The prayer zone is on the top level of the rest area’s two-story parking garage, far from the highway’s breakdown lanes where men once gathered.
Rabbi Joel Friedman of Williamsburg in Brooklyn said Sloatsburg is well-known among religious Jews in New York City. The travel plaza is referred to as the “prayer stop” or the “meeting area.”
￼ As many as 300 Jews say their afternoon (mincha) and night (maariv) prayers there each Thursday, Friedman said. The busiest time is between 9:30 and 11 p.m., when up to 70 men in small groups pray together. That window of time lets them say both prayers within a short period before continuing on their journey.
“They stop for one prayer before sundown, and they wait a few minutes so they can (say) another prayer after sundown,” he said.
Friedman spends each Thursday in the summer supervising the proceedings from 4 p.m. to midnight. As a liaison with the Thruway Authority, he makes sure things run smoothly, worshippers pray in the right location and people don’t tie up traffic.
“A little bit, sometimes people still park on the ramp,” said Friedman, who tells them there is designated parking on the second floor of the garage. “That’s even easier. I keep explaining, ‘Why walk?’ “
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