The Human Side of the Story

For the week ending 13 January 2007 / 23 Tevet 5767

Sefer Torah in Outer Space

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
The "Columbia Torah" and the "Atlantis Torah" form the saga of Torah in outer space that began with survivors of the Holocaust and culminated with heroic astronauts.

When the late Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, boarded the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle in 2003, he took along a small Sefer Torah. The son of an Auschwitz survivor, Ramon felt compelled to borrow this tiny scroll from Professor Joachim Joseph of TelAvivUniversity who brought it out from the Bergen Belsen concentration camp where he had secretly held a ceremony for his Bar Mitzvah.

To honor the memory of her husband and the Columbia crew, Rona Ramon borrowed a small Torah from Professor Henry Fenichel, a physics professor in Cincinnati, a child survivor of the Holocaust, and asked Canadian astronaut Steve Maclean to take it with him on the Atlantis flight.

When the Atlantis returned to earth, a ceremony was held at the Center for Holocaust Studies and Humanity Education in Cincinnati as Maclean, who declared that Ramon was his best friend, returned the Sefer Torah to Fenichel.

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