First AF synagogue, mosque breaks ground

Emily Reagan
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***KMC chaplains and base leadership gathered at the Ramstein Southside Chapel to celebrate the beginnings of the Air Force’s first Jewish-Islamic interfaith annex during a groundbreaking ceremony Feb. 17.

The $535,000 addition to the Southside Chapel includes two rooms that will serve as Jewish and Islamic chapels, said Chaplain (Col.) Carl Andrews, U.S. Air Forces in Europe deputy command chaplain.

The Air Force’s only other operational, interfaith chapel is located at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and includes a Jewish synagogue and Buddhist temple, said Chaplain Andrews. An Islamic prayer room is located at the Chaplain Service Institute on Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and is considered as a non-operational training facility, although used by servicemembers and international officers stationed there.

“We hope this chapel be a bench mark for interfaith cooperation,” said Chaplain (Col.) Richard Elliott, 435th Air Base Wing chaplain. “In the military, the percentages of these religious groups are small, but from a worldwide scope, they’re large. A true test of a free society is how we treat the smaller, minority groups.”

There are 60 to 80 KMC members from each Jewish and Islamic groups who will benefit from the annex once it is completed in July, said Chaplain Elliott.

Currently, Muslims meet at a facility on Pulaski Barracks that includes a permanent prayer room.

Last year, the KMC Jewish community met in a conference room at the Ramstein Northside Chapel. Now, the Jews worship at the Vogelweh Chapel annex, moving the Holy Torah in and out of storage for every Friday’s prayer service.

“It’s been very inconvenient for them,” said Chaplain Elliott. “This is going to give both of these major faith groups a place to call home. The two groups needed a home, and we found them one – and that’s a true test of America.”

The permanent facilities will allow worshippers stability; they won’t have to take religious artifacts down during shared holidays. The 4,000-square foot annex will also allow worshippers to face east toward Mecca and Jerusalem.

Ramstein is one of only two Air Force bases that has chaplains from the five major faith groups. Not all bases will be able to provide facilities for embedded populations of Jews and Muslims, but it’s important that they realize what they can accomplish when they work together, said the chaplain.

“It’s no coincidence that today’s news is how Palestine and Israel are finding a way to peace, as we break ground for an interfaith chapel for Muslims and Jews,” said Brig. Gen. Rosanne Bailey, 435th ABW and KMC commander, in a speech during the ceremony. “Years later, our chapel will symbolize a tiny piece of that historical event.”

With trees already cleared, the 38th Construction and Training Squadron will begin construction DATE.